The Dos and Don’ts of Advertising During COVID-19

Vector image with 2 men shaking hands via technology.

Image source: Adobe Stock

The effects of COVID-19 continue to evolve around the world and impact all aspects of life as we adapt to this new reality.

Since mid-March, many of our customers have asked us for best practices around advertising and marketing during this challenging time. People are uncertain about how to advertise sensitively as well as effectively.

We’ve compiled “dos and don’ts” of advertising during COVID-19. The tips below are based on Adobe Advertising Cloud research, industry guidance, and customer recommendations.

DO be authentic

Authenticity is incredibly important to create strong connections with your customers, especially if you are going to insert your brand into the conversations of today. The advertisers who will excel during this time are the ones who will remain true to their brand and values. According to the Kantar COVID-19 barometer report, 64% of consumers want brands to communicate their values through their messaging.

“Above all, brands should respond authentically based on their brand positioning, values, and tone of voice,” said Chris Stephenson, regional head of strategy and planning, PHD APAC, in a recent article in The Drum.

DO revisit your creative often

Watch, listen, and learn to continually update your creative and messaging to meet the demands of the changing market. We’re seeing many top brands being nimble in making necessary changes to their creative and messaging. Ford, for example, in March pulled down its planned advertisements and replaced them with ads about the carmaker’s COVID-19 car payment relief program and creative that reminded customers the company has responded to past disasters.

Here’s a quick checklist to assess your creatives:

DO look closely at segmentation to inform new strategies and messaging

In times of crisis, customer attunement is not just a best practice — it’s a must-have. If your audiences are broad today, think through how you can segment further based on inputs like site behavior or psychographics to get the right message in front of the right person.

From a first-party data perspective, closely monitor your web analytics and take note of what shifts in customer behavior are telling you. For example, you may notice that your customers are looking for answers and support rather than typical conversion pages. Take note of these shifts, segment your users accordingly, and adapt your strategy, messaging, and landing pages to provide the information customers are looking for, clearly and readily, for a better customer experience.

Third-party segments work as well, and many data partners that you can access through the Adobe Advertising Cloud platform are building out new segments in response to the crisis. Segments may be based on psychographics, shifts in streaming behaviors, and lifestyle changes as many customers begin to spend more time at home.

DO assess the media channels where your customers are spending their time

Stay-at-home behavior is influencing the way media is consumed across the world. Coupled with this change in consumer behavior, we have seen CPMs decrease as much as 5-10% when comparing February to March. Additionally, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of ad-buying opportunities. Here’s what we’ve seen with our advertising auction volume data, compiled from two weekday snapshots, comparing February 10-12 to March 16-18:

DO choose the premium options — which have more credibility with consumers

To deal with today’s uncertainty, consumers need sources they can trust right now. In a recent study we commissioned with YouGov that surveyed 3,500 consumers, video ads on premium channels were considered 20-50% more credible versus non-premium inventory, such as user-generated content (UGC). This is an essential takeaway as you plan your marketing mix during this time.

DON’T assume your audience is consuming content the same way they always have

Our standard media patterns are changing dramatically with live sports cancellations, box office closures, and extensive work-from-home policies. Yet, you can assess these shifts and reach your audience.

For example, advanced targeting tactics can support reinvestment across both linear and CTV to take advantage of increased at-home viewing. Marketers can use automatic content recognition (ACR) data partners, such as Inscape and Samba TV, to capture historical viewership audiences of sports and target them across non-sports-related content where they are now diverting their attention.

DON’T blindly restrict your ad placements

We’re in a sensitive time, and, as with most crises, many brands are restricting their ads almost entirely from appearing on COVID-19 content. However, because of the considerable mindshare and unprecedented amount of coverage that COVID-19 has garnered, blocking ads on this content may lead to an inability to connect with your customers. According to a recent report by Integral Ad Science, most people (78%) report that their sentiment would likely remain unchanged for general ads that appear near COVID-19 content.

DON’T share anything insensitive or that could induce panic

Similarly, the importance of tone and messaging was backed up by the Kantar COVID-19 barometer report, which found that over 70% of consumers believe that brands should not exploit the situation to promote their brand.

There are two questions you need to ask:

  1. Is it insensitive (e.g., ads for cleaning products that are hard to come by)?
  2. Does this ad induce panic or fear in users (e.g., if it potentially could, revisit your creative or messaging)?

If you’re unsure, we recommend going outside your business and getting feedback from your customers.

We hope these “dos and don’ts” provide some actionable thought starters to think through your advertising strategy. As the world changes, we will continue the conversation to provide you with the most timely recommendations. We’re committed to helping make your life easier and your business uninterrupted during this time.

For more information, read our advertising new guide “Staying Connected in the Midst of COVID-19.”