Advertisers blur the line between real life stories and scripted narratives

Topics Coronavirus | advertising | Lockdown

Short videos, personal messages, health tips, recipes and information nuggets, are all being served up as engagement hooks
With governments across the world enforcing varying degrees of restraint over conducting day-to-day businesses, advertisers are quietly handing over the camera and microphone to users and employees. Short videos, personal messages, health tips, recipes and information nuggets, are all being served up as engagement hooks, in the rapidly evolving marketing playbook in the post Covid-19 world.

Experts said that there are two sides to the emerging situation—one is that screen time has never been higher and brands can, perhaps for the first time ever, have the undivided attention of their consumers. This is driving more and more brands to keep the communication channels buzzing, although the overall volume of ads created and released has come down significantly.

On the flip side, consumption (for non-essentials) is hitting a new low and consumers are gripped by fear and uncertainty. Hence brands must tread carefully and the messaging must be sensitive to the emerging situation. Also, with a ban on outdoor gatherings, the process of creating an ad needs overhaul too.


Ashish Bhasin, CEO, APAC and chairman, India, Dentsu Aegis Network, said that overall advertising has reduced because many clients don’t have the need to advertise other than essential products. Even for these segments, making new ads is difficult, but people are being creative by shooting simple videos at home or asking consumers to upload their own.
Amazon has asked its delivery persons to shoot and upload while Asian Paints has asked customers to send short clips of their daily routines for its campaign Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai (Every home has something to say).

“People are spending more time on screens, but why would a client need to advertise? You advertise to sell your product and if the customer can’t go out and buy the product, what is the use? It is a very unique situation where the media consumption is at its highest, but there is no need to advertise. (Also) there is no liquidity and advertising is one of the easiest expenses to cut,” Bhasin said.

A study by marketing consultant firm Nielsen and broadcast research firm BARC, at the end of the first week of the lockdown, has shown an increase in television viewership, smartphone use and video-on-demand consumption. Average daily viewers grew by 32 million, and total TV consumption increased by 8 per cent in India, the report said. The time spent on smart phone per user per week also increased by 1.5 hours to 25 hours. Consumption on social networks, video streaming and gaming increased too, during 10 AM to 4 PM, with more people using Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram and Whatsapp. 

Ads however have been largely flowing in through digital channels, where the ease of uploading home-made videos and user-generated content is high. Traditional brand and marketing communication has taken a backseat for the moment. “And rightly so,” said Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults. “This is a phase of early confusion. A completely wrong time to communicate with him her and they,” he added. 

A Covid-19 Barometer India Research survey by Kantar on Understanding Consumer Sentiments and Implications for Brands found that consumers are however looking to brands for reassurances and hence there is a need for advertisers to keep talking to their patrons, in a sensitive manner and through innovative means.

Covid-19 has changed the messaging, said Sandeep Goyal, founder Mogae Media. The police for example, in the given scenarios have had to play both disciplinarians and humanitarians. The forces in most states learnt that very quickly. Lots of good work can be done in today’s difficult circumstances too with a bit of wit and creativity, he added.

While advertisers will benefit from innovative twists to the creative process, the business of advertising will take a long term hit believe experts. “I feel the next two quarters, which is the second and third quarter of the calendar year will be bad. Revival, if at all, will start from Diwali period, depending upon how good the monsoons are,” said Bhasin.   

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