Why financial brands continue to bank on advertising even during COVID-19

Experts weigh in on why brands in the space are increasingly investing in advertising dollars in order to reach out to the captive audience  

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Published: May 4, 2020 9:12 AM  | 9 min read
Coronavirus ADS

While most brands are curtailing or putting a pause on ad spends due to the strain that COVID-19 has put on businesses, brands in the finance space are going all out to reach out to the captive audience.

With the pandemic gripping every community on a global basis, it is being asked if this is the time to discuss products and solutions that may be of assistance to customers or should a bank or credit union simply revert to brand-based communication? What has really spurred the rise of financial brands advertising heavily in these times when uncertainty has engulfed brands and businesses? Experts weigh in…

Why are financials keeping their hands ‘clean’

Unlike other categories that have withdrawn their ad campaigns, the financial category instead seems to be going the other way. From HDFC Bank to DSP Mutual Funds, brands in this space seem to be leveraging different mediums from digital to on-ground while not only keeping their brand relevant, but also being a part of the coronavirus conversation.

Keeping with the times, HDFC Bank launched the Safety Grid campaign in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Chandigarh and Bhubaneswar. The brand used the outer grid of the HDFC Bank logo and created physical markers to help people maintain the World Health Organisation (WHO) mandated “social" distance while waiting in queues outside a shop or an establishment.

Created by Leo Burnett, ‘The Safety Grid’ was painted in front of the space leading to 4,000 retail outlets such as pharmacies, grocery stores, and ATMs.

Rajdeepak Das, Managing Director India-Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett, South Asia shares that since the COVID-19 breakout, while most brands are restricting their initiatives to the digital space, the team decided to go on-ground. “While most brands are restricting their initiatives to the digital space, we decided to take the take action where the fight against COVID will be won or lost – the roads and streets of India. We wanted to go beyond just sending a message and create a campaign which will have real impact for people. Brand HDFC Bank has always stood for positive impact on people life and with that in mind we came up with the idea of using the HDFC Banks grid as a physical marker on ground to help people maintain social distance,” Das shares.

Interestingly, DSP Mutual Funds conceptualized their campaign much before the pandemic had even become big in India. The brand leveraged OOH as a medium. “We put together our “Bachao” campaign to spread awareness for Equity Linked Savings Schemes (ELSS) towards the end of February/ early March, and subsequently added a secondary OOH campaign in Mumbai to spread awareness on steps to protect oneself against Covid 19 by the second week of March,” Abhik Sanyal, Head- Consumer Marketing, DSP Investment Managers shares. Even as the lockdown began, the brand continued their Covid-19 awareness campaign. “Constant support from our OOH agency Milestone Brandcom and multiple conversations with the BMC and BEST team encouraged us to continue the Covid-19 awareness campaign in Mumbai, in line with the overall OOH theme in the city. In times like this, anyone in a position to spread awareness responsibly or help out effectively would have come to the forefront and done their bit to help people deal with the pandemic in whatever way possible. For us, just this thought drove us to continue our Covid-19 campaign,” Sanyal asserts.

Another player-Future Generali India Insurance had a campaign planned during Q2 which they decided to go ahead with, albeit with a modified messaging that is relevant to the Covid-19 context. “In today’s context consumers are more concerned about their health and there is an upsurge in demand for health insurance products. We are ensuring that we address that need by reaching out to them through social media, search and high visitorship websites. We believe that relevant communication that genuinely addresses consumers' needs and concerns and is delivered in an authentic manner will create brand preference in these times,” says Ruchika Varma, CMO, Future Generali India Insurance.

While Digital and Mobile were always the core of Future Generali India’s media strategy, Varma feels that in the current context they have become even more critical. “In parallel, we are ensuring that our agents are equipped with the right tools for digital prospecting and consumer relationship management in the absence of a physical interaction,” she reveals.

As per recent stats, the banking, financial services and insurance industry spent the highest share of their advertising expenditure on digital media with about 38 per cent share in 2019 compared to just 24 per cent in the previous year.

Varma observes that with a 42% increase in overall social media usage, 61% increase in traffic to news sites and 11% increase in video streaming, digital is now even more powerful than before, something that has spurred the medium’s growth amongst the category players.

“In this new reality, brands have pulled back on print, outdoor and cinema advertising as audience numbers have dipped considerably. However, traditional mediums have given way to digital. Insurance advertising has followed the same pattern. With an increase in demand for Health Insurance products, brands are investing in promoting awareness and preference for this category on digital mediums,” she explains.

She establishes that since advertising is responding to consumer demand, the results are bound to be seen. “This should help increase the penetration of health insurance in India eventually,” she opines.

Manish Mehta, National Head Sales and Marketing, Kotak Mahindra Asset Management Company Ltd., reveals that asset management companies have been using social media to communicate benefits of long term investing, rupee cost averaging, continuing to stay invested in volatile times. “Lots of data on the market behaviour in the past and subsequent rise have been used to convey the key points. We believe this information being consumed by investors and through distributors will help in building the discipline of long term investing amongst investors,” Mehta explains.

Meanwhile, Shefali Khalsa, Head – Brand & Corporate Communication, SBI General Insurance, signals that the pandemic has had one direct impact on the insurance category, that the awareness and intent for buying health insurance has gone up, resulting in demand for health insurance. “As per the media reports, the consumption of TV and online content has gone up. On the digital front, searches related to grocery delivery, retail healthcare and health insurance has seen a spike, whereas search for jewelry/watches, tourism, luxury, fashion, sports equipment, events, etc has gone down. All brands have been able to strengthen their digital assets and presence, as the world has now been connected just virtually,” she shares.

Khalsa notes that usually the insurance industry is not very active in advertising during Q1 while Q4 is the busiest and high tempo quarter. SBI General Insurance has been rolling out
various hygiene campaigns on social media and their digital platforms. “I would say that WhatsApp is the best platform not just for communication but also for engagement. With the COVID 19 context, we had put together more communication and engagement with customers and channel partners, in various forms and platforms,” she explains.

Banking on ‘uncertainty’

Ashish Sehgal, Chief Growth Officer – Advertisement Revenue, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, notes that in a matter of only a few weeks, financial services have experienced a level of disruption that will change everything that had been the norm. Sehgal indicates that while the sector might be facing unprecedented challenges, BFSI may be investing advertising dollars to keep the flock of investors upbeat and invested. “Markets have seen a huge downturn and volatility. While investors are worried, some also look at this is an opportunity to invest smartly and safely through instruments like Mutual Funds. The insurance industry has a key role to play in supporting consumers and societies through the crisis and the recovery and this is probably the time to educate consumers about life and non-life insurance. Banking is grappling with its own challenges. While the BFSI sector may be facing headwinds, this is the time to tell consumers to show confidence in the sector and stay invested. It’s important to communicate to the viewers the mid to long term view of staying invested and not just respond to short-term losses,” he says.

Sandeep Goyal, Founder, Mogae Media voices a similar opinion. “The stock market has tanked with over 35% erosion in value. So, in terms of context, this really is the worst time to be discussing investments. It is an environment of uncertainty and anxiety. However, the BFSI brands that are advertising must be wanting to use the current fear in everyone's mind to stimulate demand,” Goyal points out.

Now is the time…

A clear consensus on this point is that if brands do manage to draw the captive audience with compelling marketing messages, they can convert the uncertainties and challenges into opportunities and can well disrupt.

According to Rubeena Singh, CEO, iProspect India, the key lies in execution of a smart and nimble marketing strategy. “This is a time of tremendous disruption and those who are able to position the brand well now will reap long-term benefits. It’s a good opportunity for banks to increase CASA and for insurance companies to increase per capita penetration,” Singh advises.

Meanwhile, Vineet Sodhani, former CEO of Spatial Access indicates that with banks sitting with too much cash, their inability to extend loans in this environment has led many to reduce interest rates on savings accounts as well. He hints that to divert this cash from savings to other instruments, some of them have increased their advertising budgets."

As transactions move to digital owing to lockdown, there is a push for digital adoption via advertising and also increased awareness and the need felt to buy life and non-life insurance products,” Sodhani remarks.

To add to this, The Reserve Bank of India recently decided to open a special liquidity facility for mutual funds of Rs 50,000 crore. The move is aimed at easing the liquidity pressure, to nudge banks to lend more, enabling businesses to overcome the financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Dinesh Singh Rathore, CEO, Madison Media Omega establishes that with the RBI’s move to address liquidity, a lot of action is expected from the sector. “BFSI, especially insurance, has been active. Advertising now is apt because you think of insurance in times of uncertainty. Also RBI's policy will increase liquidity which banks and NBFCs need to deploy. So expect a good amount of advertising from the space,” Rathore asserts.

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