Strategies for advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic

With so much uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak, we wanted to compile some helpful information for companies that are unsure of how, and even if, they should continue advertising. Depending on the industry, it may be best to cancel or postpone ads until the crisis has eased. We’ve paused several campaigns promoting events and travel. However, it could be a long time until normalcy, or even a new normal, occurs. Businesses have good reason to worry, especially with the likelihood of a recession approaching. But is this the time to go dark? Definitely not if you want to assure customers that you’re still around. Each industry will have its own challenges that require varied responses, but here are some useful tips applicable for all businesses in adjusting ad strategy. 

1. Most importantly, this crisis is not a marketing opportunity to capitalize on. Brands should be extremely cautious not to appear insensitive or opportunistic. Instead, start with a mindset of “how can I help to ease the problems of those affected by this outbreak.”

3. Make sure your customers can still find you. People are still buying, and much of it is now online. Paid search (PPC) campaigns can be crucial to reach customers seeking your products or services, so keep this up at a minimum. Searches will likely decline, but as these ads are on a Cost Per Click basis, ad dollars won’t be wasted. And be sure to
update your Google My Business (GMB) profile so it reflects the most accurate information about your business, including business hours and contact information.

4. Rather than cancel an existing media contract, can you use that ad space to express a different message? Ford has shifted their national ads from product focus to its expanded Ford credit program, which helps people delay their payments. If your company has initiated similar programs or adjusted services to accommodate people during the crisis, shift your messaging to promote it and use this to establish goodwill toward your brand. Be sure to check any scheduled posts or campaigns are may need new content in light of the virus.

5. Use the opportunity for brand building. As advertisers cancel their media buys, there is less competition and lower pricing for many media channels, including premium positions with high-quality publishers and TV networks. Like most people, I’ve been spending much more time on my computer than usual keeping up on the news, and idling on social platforms and e-commerce sites. This increase in online activity offers the opportunity for businesses to engage attentive, new audiences. 

6. Consider the content where your ads may appear, but use keyword blacklists cautiously. For example, Norwegian Cruises ads were often showing up next to news on quarantines and government warnings until they were pulled. We can block ads from appearing near sensitive terms related to the pandemic, but keywords blacklists can also severely limit ad inventory as COVID-19 news is dominating much of the media in demand. “Coronavirus” was the second-most-blocked term online last month behind “Trump,” according to the technology company Integral Ad Science. 

7. Prioritize media channels for a shift to at-home consumption. Streaming TV and video usage have increased as more people spend time indoors. Social channels are also seeing a boost as people stay connected with their communities. Consider shifting ad dollars from other areas that may have reduced traffic, such as geofenced ads around businesses and events, or cancelled sports programming.

8. Remember that local media are also hurting. I love my local public radio station and will continue to support it through donations, but it also relies heavily on ad revenue to keep them on air. TV networks are dealing with cancellations of sports programming and other events. Newspapers are already on the brink, so consider the implications before canceling your ad investments. While media contracts typically have a minimum of 30 days to cancel, this depends heavily on the media channel and type of placement. 

This isn’t a complete list as each business has its own unique challenges, but we’d love to hear back from you with any additions or comments. As always, we’re here to help you during this unprecedented time.

Take care!
Susan Jahns
Principal, West End Marketing + Media

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