How festive advertising can take on a new role to beat COVID blues

Industry observers say while brands will encourage people to ‘celebrate responsibly’, categories like consumer durables, e-comm, online gaming & education will have a bigger presence this year

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Sep 10, 2020 9:49 AM
Festive season

With the festive season setting in, some optimism has started to shine through after a prolonged period of doom and gloom. While all hopes now rest on the sentiments around the festivals, the face of it now looks markedly different than ever before as concerns around health, social distancing and hygiene become big.

The long-term picture is that life beyond Covid still seems a little far away. To be sure, from internal operations to consumer-facing messaging, key aspects of marketing have become a moving target of the volatility that could persist even after the current health crisis abates. The pandemic has also deepened internal collaborations and accelerated response to pressing issues, suggesting that savvy brands could still meet the challenges of a remade landscape.

Industry watchers weigh in on how the face of festive advertising is geared for a reboot this year, for the first time ever.

The Changed Narrative
Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman & CEO, FCB India, feels brands should give some relief and a release to consumers this festive season. “There is a lot of bottled up anxiety and fear. Brands should, in a responsible manner, help make consumers feel normal again. We are social animals and social distancing is taking a toll on our mental and physical well-being. People fear that this festive season will be a complete washout. For the first time ever, this year Kolkata will experience E-pujas. Without pandal hopping, roadside binging and adda, the magic of pujas will not be the same.” Brands do need to find ways to fill this void in the lives of consumers during the festive season.

The crisis has caused a long-term psychological shift in how we do things. This makes it imperative for brands to lead with agility and adapt to change to win the consumer’s trust.

According to Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia, from the tonality of the communication to the depiction of celebrations, communication has to be sensitive to the current crisis. “The festive season is marked by positivity, happiness and most importantly, getting together and celebrating. After such a long period of restraint and anxiety it is only normal for brands to lead in spreading positivity and joy in the festive season. And that’s what they should. However, it is important for brands to be responsible citizens too and can’t pretend that the crisis has disappeared. I would say, brands should remember to encourage people to ‘celebrate responsibly’,” Rai advised.

Shift from the traditional
For Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, India, the mix of advertisers that will cash in on the festive season is also likely to undergo a change this year and will go beyond FMCG players. "I think the face of festive advertising will surely be different from what we expected and have experienced in the past. Categories like consumer durables, e-commerce, online gaming and education will play a bigger role.”

Bhadkamkar further said that with Covid in the background, it has been observed that brands will continue to largely focus on health and safety while communicating. “There will be an uptick when it comes to advertising on TV and digital, being the leading mediums over other mediums. With the increase in the number of Covid cases and extended lockdown measures, OOH continues to be the maximum impacted medium. It will be a gradual path to normalcy.”

An agency head who didn’t wish to be named shared that Vivo despite being out of IPL is likely to be aggressive with its festive advertising. “Also the Vocal to Local push is likely to lead to a number of unadvertised local brands to launch campaigns,” he added.

To be sure, the pandemic has hit the ad industry hard and led to a number of tectonic shifts. Ad revenue reached as low as -60% in April but the Pitch-Madison report does bring a glimmer of hope with projections of a 60-72% rebound for AdEx in H2 2020.

According to Ohri, IPL should give the industry an indication of the mood of consumers and brands as we move into the festive season. “In terms of the medium to be used, the fact is that the audio visual medium consumption at home has grown exponentially. TV and OTT platforms are garnering a huge viewership. Some years back, we used to wait for a year or two for a movie to release on TV. It’s amazing how movies are now premiering on TV.”

A sea of mindfulness, empathy & emotions
Nisha Singhania, Co-founder of Infectious Advertising, hints that mindfulness will remain key. “Festive advertising has always been about bringing in the auspicious spirit and celebrations. Some of the best festive advertising has been about connecting with people at an emotional level. However, this year advertisers will need to be mindful of the ‘new realities’ and hence what matters to people in the current situation. It will be equally important to bring in positivity and hope in these tough times,” she suggested.

Pooja Jauhari, CEO, The Glitch, expressed similar sentiments. “This year like no other may see a very different face of celebration. While the world and country need some joy, brands and agencies will be more mindful of the real human hardships this pandemic has caused. There is lockdown fatigue, so very highly possible the country may start opening up but caution and awareness will be central while celebrating. The hope is this festive season brings with it real joy like the Covid-19 vaccine and a rebooted economy,” she remarked.

One would expect that instead of resorting to product push strategies, brands will gravitate to empathetic communication to connect with consumers on a deeper level.

Mithila Saraf of Famous Innovations pointed out that consumers can expect celebrations on video calls, socially distant gatherings, and with people wearing masks. There are some brands that will manage to dig deeper and dissect the labyrinth of emotions we're all going through, she noted. “They will pick up gems that make you ‘Aah shoot, why didn't I think of that!’ Those are the ones I'm looking forward to as, when done with the right brand in the right way, they will create relationships with consumers that last a long time. And that's the real opportunity for brands this festive season,” she asserted.

The Pitch Madison report forecasts that the second half of this year will see ad spends of between Rs 34,300 crore and Rs 36,000 crore wiping out some of the deficits and making up for the hit caused by the pandemic. To be sure, after staring at a blank canvas in the first half of 2020, this festive season does bring hopes of a revival, even though it will be starkly different from all celebrations of the past.

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