COVID-19 lockdown: Advertisers strategise for ‘unprecedented times’

With advertisers delaying campaigns, what could the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown on the Indian media and advertising industry mean?

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: Mar 30, 2020 9:10 AM

“Unprecedented times,” is a common phrase that one hears in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic these days. It seems to be befitting for the current times, considering that a majority of India is under lockdown, all offices – except essential services – have shut down and work-at-home has become the new normal.

 Looking at the media & advertising sector, an early impact of this pandemic has seen many clients wanting to delay and reschedule campaigns. In this scenario, what is the strategy for advertisers to reach out to consumers?

 Mohit Joshi, Managing Director – India, Havas Media Group stressed the importance of positive communication as consumers are looking for assurance. He says, “Content consumption is definitely shifting – however, the situation is sensitive and brands need to be careful with their messaging. At times like these, consumers are more sensitised, hence it is important to have meaningful and positive communication. With millions working from home and digital connectivity taking even more of a hold on everyday habits, consumers will have greater aspirations and will seek greater assurance from brands in terms of safety standards and efficacy.”

 Sujata Dwibedy, Group Trading Director, Amplifi, Dentsu Aegis Network India says, “This is an unforeseen situation, so everyone will make their own different hypothesis and strategizing, accordingly.”

 Concurring with this viewpoint, Shekhar Banerjee, Chief Client Officer – West, Wavemaker India says, “These are unprecedented times and no strategy is valid to tide through these times. We need to take into context the double-digit decline in retail sales observed in March especially modern trade and then decide if we even need to advertise here and now."  

 He offers a three-pronged solution to the client: “One, prioritise your sales channel – minimize loss and maximize. E-commerce and this should reflect in your media mix; two, watch out for the sentiment. Consumers are scared and in isolation. Consider their receptivity to your communication. And three, optimize media – overall media consumption will spike and there is a need to tactically pivot towards more consumed platforms. It means a change of TV genre mix and also digital platform mix with fresh content. Mind you, entertainment also comes in byte size and not just in long-form.”

 With advertisers being cautious and the overall sentiment weak, the announcement of the extended lockdown till April 14th will add to the current uncertainty prevailing in the industry. Joshi says, “It’s too early to predict. There will be drastic impacts, for sure, across industries and categories. It is all very uncertain at this stage. As somebody rightfully said, we will have to look at our strategies in 2 frames BC (Before Corona) and AD (After Disaster).”

As per Dwibedy, one change that could happen is content consumption habits. She says, “The consumer behaviour might change in terms of the media consumption; however, the situation is so volatile that we don’t know what is coming up next. In case things improve in Q2, they will all come back with a bang and thrive. It has been only a fortnight that we are seeing the impact. We need to wait and watch!”

She adds, “Moreover, on product purchases, things would be different too. The purchase of essentials would be critical and that of hygiene-related products would be of the highest importance. Lots of home-related consumption, online purchase, online finance and other kinds of products might gain in the situation. But the hotels, cinema and retail industry would get hit harder. With malls being shut and tourism also almost coming to a halt, their revival will take time.”

As per the Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2020, last year, the advertising industry grew only by 11%, falling short of the projected growth rate of 13.4% for 2019.

 For 2020 the forecast for Adex is muted, with the projected growth figure for the whole year at 10.4% with a subdued H1 for Adex and a buoyant H2, especially Q4.

However, the unexpected situation may lead to a downward revision for Adex growth for the year. Jehil Thakkar, Partner and Head, Media and Entertainment, Deloitte India says, “The overall long term impact is uncertain, but in the short term, there will be a significant impact especially as there are work-from-home and restriction on movement.  There will be an effect on the overall economy and subsequently on advertising which is a major revenue source for the industry. The sports season has been postponed and this takes a significant amount of advertising out the market. With theatres closed across the country, in-theatre advertising will be affected. There will a revision downward, but a lot depends on how long we're in this current situation but the extent of it, I doubt anybody can predict at this point.”

As the global health situation gets grimmer and economies bracing for impact, adland sentiments are not looking upbeat. But one thing is clear -- that these are truly unprecedented times.

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