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Opinion: Should brands stop advertising during a crisis situation?

The final and one of the major business quarters of FY2020 is turning out to be a nightmare due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The hardest hit brands (travel, hospitality, mobility) have stopped advertising completely, relying only on public relations and the occasional digital marketing to maintain top of mind awareness (TOMA) in the consumer.

Several categories, like consumer electronics, cinema entertainment, apparel, handset and soft drink beverages might see a dip in revenues consumers reduce or completely stop spending on non-essential categories.

With the nation-wide 21-day lockdown ordered by the Government, people are mostly confined to their homes, being allowed to venture out only to buy essentials. Online brands are ramping up their spending to target these consumers at home through tactical print advertising. Television is being leveraged to create brand awareness at the TOMA level, but brands are avoiding direct selling of products/ services in their communications for the non-essential categories.

Product-based brand categories like handsets have had to push their marketing calendar and cancel new product launches amidst the crisis. Players like Vivo are resorting to brand building narratives in support of the fight against COVID-19.

Amid the ongoing crisis, Brand Asian Paints is gearing up for the monsoon months by deploying both an awareness campaign on television and a tactical print campaign. Both of these ads are currently airing on TV channels at the time of filing this report.

Getting your house painted is a considered purchase and often buyers spend a lot of time making such a decision. By monsoon, the spread of the pandemic may indeed slow down or be checked although media reports are not giving any indication that this is the case.

Most brand communications are indeed highlighting their anti-bacterial, anti-germ, and other protective properties to assuage consumer paranoia around the virus. Some communications are outright asking the consumer to stay indoors even from brand categories that necessitate that the consumer leave their homes to purchase them such as Auto.

At a time when fear pervades the society and people are struggling to protect themselves from getting infected, while ensuring that the household doesn’t run out of food items, an ad copy released by Asian Paints has been accused of being tone deaf by a user on Twitter.

While there is nothing directly offensive about the copy, consumer restraints on spending and options/ availability of products/ services and the current market downturn has led to a negative consumer sentiment globally. The International Monetary Fund has declared that the global economy is in a recession and during such times considered purchases are the first to take the hit.

In such a negative marketing environment, should a brand like Asian Paints have rolled out their marketing communications without pause?

Expert Speak

Amit Wadhwa, President, Dentsu Impact: “These are extra-ordinary times and whatever we do which has a commercial aspect to it, we need to be extra careful so that we don't come across as an insensitive brand. Having said that, I don’t think brands should stop advertising right now. We certainly should keep the brand love through messaging which is in line with the brand and yet shows that the brand cares. But hardcore selling certainly should be a NO. Also, I think it’s the message rather than the medium which needs attention.”

Divya Radhakrishnan, Managing Director, Helios Media: “We have implored the advertising fraternity to advise their clients that this is really not the time to advertise. There is something called viewership based on opportunity but people should also be able to accept the message. If my mind is blocked and in such a turmoil, how can I accept a message? BARC-Nielsen report has shown that viewership has increased, but we cannot be scavengers of viewership, we need to see the state of mind of people to accept a communication.”

Sudhir Kumar, Director – Offline, DCMN, “The Asian Paints ad is not a call to action but rather intended to build basic awareness. The brand wants to keep their awareness level intact as per their core seasonality and hence, they are advertising on TV as well. Whatever advertising, we are seeing right now either on TV or print, it is purely for awareness building at least for non-essential products. If they have the budgets and reason to advertise then it is purely up to the decision of the brand. In advertising, out of sight means out of mind, so even during this period brands will be trying to raise their TOMA (top of mind awareness) levels.”

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Also Read:

Asian Paints adds a hue of happiness in the time of lockdown

Vivo’s ‘Heroes Who Care’ film shows how to put together an ad during WFH times

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