It’s not just programmers and air talent wrestling with how to adjust their content to reflect today’s radically different reality. Marketers, too, have had to pivot their advertising strategies and messaging to remain relevant. One of the top questions for advertisers is whether to keep using existing creative or cut new COVID-specific copy. A series of recent studies, summarized by Cumulus Media/Westwood One Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard on the “Everyone’s Listening” blog, shed some light on the issue.
For starters, the entry references a just-released study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which found that 73% of ad buyers plan to modify or develop new creative assets during second quarter 2020, compared to 27% who intend to use their pre-coronavirus creative. Yet even though almost three in four plan to at least modify their creative, a study in which 100 ads were retested and compared to their previous pre-virus scores found no reduction in advertising’s ability to connect with people. “Brands can most likely continue with their pre-COVD advertising,” concludes Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at ad testing and tracking firm System1, which conducted the study.
In another study cited on the blog, creative evaluation firm Veritonic tested 26 TV and AM/FM radio ads. Half of the ads were previous campaigns and half consisted of new coronavirus-themed executions. Suggesting that reworked creative is the way to go, AM/FM radio and TV ads with a COVID-19 theme performed similarly with the same impact. Yet the radio ads with coronavirus themes delivered 97% of the TV ads’ performance – at one-fourth the CPM.
Research conducted by creative evaluation firm ABX came to a similar conclusion. It tested 360 coronavirus-themed ads across all mediums, including 63 AM/FM radio ads. “Radio has been at the forefront of generating COVID-related messaging and currently 65% of radio creative features COVID-specific messaging,” the ABX study found. “And this messaging has generated some of the highest among the radio ads measured by ABX these past weeks. Radio spots featuring thanks to first-responders, helpful advice regarding resisting the virus, and conveying a serious tone in their offers all did well.”
Overall, consumer response to ads during the month of March improved 5%, the ABX study found, even with no change in creative. But ads with COVID-related content performed better than non-COVID-related ads by a whopping 175%. And all but five AM/FM radio ads with COVID-specific messages were above ABX norms and well above long-term AM/FM radio averages.
Are COVID-Themed Ads Cliché?
Yet, marketing expert Mark Ritson throws cold water on the trend of marketers reworking their ad creative to reflect the new post-pandemic American reality. Most COVID-themed ads are cliché, he postulates, “and an enormous and embarrassing waste of money on the part of some of the world’s biggest brands. Just because we are in a strange and ‘unprecedented’ time does not mean that the usual rules of branding are deferred,” Ritson added. His main point is that ads still need to be distinctive and have an actual message.
System1, meanwhile, provides examples of what’s working and what isn’t in national ads during the current crisis. In the working column are ads with established brand characters, ads that make use of familiar scenarios or taglines, ads set in a specific time and place in the past, ads that highlight the human connection in the current state of “betweenness,” and ads with a strong connection to local community and togetherness.
Not working in the current environment, according to System1, are ads that stress price and offers, ads that focus on things instead of people, ads that appeal to vanity, ads that rely too heavily on soundtracks, and aggressively competitive ads.
Supporting Ritson’s stance that COVID-themed ads are over-used is new research from NuVoodoo in which 35% of surveyed consumers say they are already sick of ads that declare, “We’re all in this together.” Thanking frontline workers generated the most positive brand favorability, followed by COVID discount offers and creatively highlighting brand donations and fundraisers.