Escapism or reality: Will advertising confront Covid this time?

Pandemic-centric ads inevitable in 2022 but brands need to be balanced in approach, opine industry experts

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: Jan 11, 2022 9:10 AM  | 4 min read
covid advertising

The liminal stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 caught the world off-guard – many had to make some desultory decisions and settle into the new, mostly digital, order of the world. Human emotions too were impacted in a significant way, and therefore, along with managing business goals, advertisers had to also stay connected with the audience on a more intimate level. From indulging in CSR activities to creating awareness campaigns, advertising in that year was also about Covid, its impact, and the life in it. As some normalcy started settling in and reported pandemic fatigue settled in consumers, early 2021 saw several brands cautiously moving away from this form of storytelling but the world was hit by a second wave, again pushing creatives to think in the realms of a pandemic world. And it seems like a similar story is panning out again!

The 2021 festive season with low Covid cases, market performances improving, and consumer sentiment growing gave several brand categories a good opportunity to indulge in storytelling that was not about the pandemic and the impact it has had on the world. However, 2022 has started with an impending scare of a third wave and people are again forced to move indoors. In such a situation, will brands stick to the regular form of storytelling on pandemic and its impacts or will they continue with the feel-good form of advertising that they have moved to.

 

Advertising is a reflection of society

Although most brands are now desperately wanting the world to go back to as normal as it could be and the pandemic scare to wash away, they can’t risk taking an overtly positive approach in advertising, the industry opines.

Rediffusion MD Sandeep Goyal elaborates, “The pandemic is a reality. Advertising is a reflection of our daily lives. So wishing it away is neither feasible nor practical. Brands can't be showing happy families and joyous youth if the third wave puts thousands into hospitals. Such portrayal would lack sensitivity and would be out of sync with reality.”

Samsika Marketing Consultants MD Jagdeep Kapoor agrees, “I would divide it (brand categories) in two parts: the thematics, i.e the ones in the HIH (health, immunity, hygiene) categories. For them, this form of storytelling is going to continue in the long run, pandemic or not. The other side is the schematic ones, wherein the communication is more tactical and for a shorter period. For example, brands promote hand washing or wearing masks (even when their products are not in the same category). They will make a comeback in 2022 as well because you can’t completely ignore what is happening all around us.”

 

Balancing the narrative is important

However, while pandemic-centric storytelling in ads will surely make a comeback, the brands taking the route should stay wary of how they approach the subject as extreme negativity might not work in anyone’s favour.

Brand Guru and founder of eponymous brand consulting firm Harish Bijoor says, “Advertising during and post the third wave of Covid needs to morph in its focus and storyline. The consumer is tired of the pandemic and its fear-lines. Time to focus on the hope-line, if hope, at all, is the opposite of fear. This is the time when advertising needs to be as much of an escape route from the mundane, as is Bollywood! Escapist advertising is what the consumer will look forward to in 2022.”

Goyal and Bijoor agree as they suggest that brands must be talking with a pleasant undertone while not neglecting the seriousness of the pandemic.

Goyal quips, “The only suggestion I have is that brands take a balanced approach – not too tilted to pandemic panic but not completely oblivious too. However, there are many categories that have no overt connection to the pandemic; those can proceed with life regardless.”

Bijoor concludes, “Advertising is all about memorability. Whatever the audience sees, they remember it for the long term. Therefore, brands can’t be very harsh or negative in showing even the pandemic. They have to be in a position to bring out things in a pleasant manner – nothing too painful or depressing would make the cut.”

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