When things get tough economically the first lever most marketers pull is marked ‘caution’. But as Verizon Media’s head of platform Sales ANZ, Andrew Gilbert says, these truly extraordinary times call for a bit of introspection and some counter-intuitive tactics.

Sometimes having a foot in two opposing camps can be the best way to appreciate where the middle ground lies.

For three years I worked for the world's largest verification vendor, consulting with brands on how to protect their brand equity. My main objective was helping clients to really understand brand risk. This, in some cases, directly removed advertising dollars from the pockets of the world's largest publishers.

I now work for one of the world's largest marketing technology platforms, consulting with brands on how to amplify their brand equity. It's a direct contrast with my past role but one thing hasn't changed: the marketer is still in control of their choices.

Despite this, the marketing industry remains infuriatingly predictable. Here's how the cycle goes. Details emerge on a pending crisis and no one does anything. Crisis happens.... and the marketing world goes crazy with basic principles hastily cast aside.

It is a purely reactionary response. Marketers either pull all investment or they decide to use any piece of technology at their disposal to block all associated crisis content. This, in turn, hurts not just their own brands' prospects, but the future of the publishers they depend on to communicate their lofty brand messages.

Now before we continue, I need to caveat this by saying that this is an absolutely horrible time that we are going through for individuals and employers. There are a significant number of businesses that are in for a very tumultuous time. As consumers, we need to support them by getting behind local initiatives or purchasing New Zealand-made as a priority.

But we must also acknowledge we are now living in our new normal for the next six to 12months.In our business, we must react to the prevailing conditions in order to drive cut-through and make our brands sing. With so many marketers hiding under the table until the storm passes, there are opportunities for those with a bit of gumption.

For businesses experiencing supply issues due to an increase in demand for your product, pulling marketing budgets makes complete sense. Likewise with brands who are in financial trouble after demand disappeared overnight such as those in the travel industry. In saying this, if you're a hand sanitiser or toilet paper brand you're in for a crazy ride.

Of course, no one wants to be seen as capitalising on trauma. So it's understandable that people might feel uncomfortable paying for an advertisement next to a story that is linked to pain and suffering.

But, as is normally the case in marketing, individual qualms and prejudices aren't representative of the end consumer.

Historically, negative content has driven poor perceptions of brands, whether consciously or subconsciously. The YouTube brand safety scandal is a perfect illustration. A very low percentage of the videos were actually high risk, yet widespread media coverage meant many marketers gave it the widest of berths. You might be surprised, however, that some brands took advantage of the lack of messaging dissonance and low CPMs within YouTube to great effect. Sometimes an abundance of caution isn't the best strategy.

Understanding today's unique media paradigm

Venerable marketing professor Mark Ritson has spoken extensively about being a 'humble marketer'. It's simple logic - once you're part of a company, you're part of the machinery, and you can no longer be objective about your products and values. So, in a nutshell, stop listening to your own prejudices and start listening to what your customers are saying and doing.

That's especially good advice for the present moment as the coronavirus is quite literally the only story in town and your consumer is paying more attention than normal. Yes, you might instinctively fret about brand safety with your advertising, but happily, your consumers do not.

Well not really, some do 22% that is.

A Coronavirus Ad Adjacency Study out of the US by Integral Ad Science shows that 78% of consumers do not change their sentiment towards a brand after seeing it next to Coronavirus content. It also revealed 32% of consumers say suitability is based on the brand.

Another factor is the nature of the coronavirus content itself. Brand risk is fundamentally based in negativity. It does not, however, take into account when a subject that was originally negative comes to dominate all aspects of our life.

Oracle Data Cloud did some analysis of this phenomenon. Specifically how much of each content category is coronavirus based can be seen in the table below.

Verizon article table

As can be seen, whether you are completely removing marketing spend (for risk reasons) or completely blocking coronavirus content, your marketing goals will lose out because, firstly, this is where your consumers live now; and secondly, the majority of coronavirus content is not negative.

Fortune favours the brave

You have a clear cut opportunity over the next six to 12 months to drive cut through, at a time where engagement on digital channels (CTV, online editorial, audio, and native) is incredibly high, and our consumers are mentally available to receive your message.

Why those channels? Because that is where the consumer has moved to. From the physical to the digital.

  • IAB NZ research shows that on March 1 there were fewer than 650,000 average  unique daily browsers across NZ news websites, a number that had surged to over 900,000 by March 31.
  • Nearly 1.2 million average unique daily browsers of news sites in NZ were recorded on March 23, when imminent Stage 4 lockdown restrictions were announced.
  • Linear TV hit an increase of 70% in audience size for 25-54 since pre-COVID-19, which no doubt also affected the existing 1.3M BVOD audience also.
  • RNZ saw a 16.1% increase downloads/streams of a podcast or other audio content during lockdown
  • Oh and Spotify has seen a 135% increase in streams of “Don’t stand so close to me” by The Police.

The remaining consumer population who were still resisting the move to high-level digital consumption are all in, and we welcome you.

This is why in a post-Coronavirus world, it will most likely be the brands that took this opportunity, invested when others pulled out and supported the economy when it was falling, that will live in the minds of consumers for the next 10 years. 

Article provided by Verizon Media.