Communicating through Coronavirus


Lorraine McNaughton, Marketing Manager, PML Group NI, looks at the effect of Coronavirus, and how communication should continue throughout the crisis.

OOH is always on, even in a crisis – your advertising should be on too.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put us all into a state of flux, where major news changes come hourly rather than daily or weekly and we’ve been forced into the biggest lifestyle change this generation is likely to see.
Top of everyone’s priority list should be safety for those around us. Cocooning those at risk and socially distancing from everyone other than those we live with has brought major changes to our daily routine.
Travel for leisure has ceased for all but the most determined rule breakers. With the exception of key workers almost half* of the population are now working from home (or trying to work at home, while kids, spouses and pets get in the way). Globally, over half of the entire population is experiencing some form of lockdown.
How we shop has changed too, with 21%* of people shopping more often to get what they need. Over 50%* of people haven’t changed their shopping habits and still shop in store. According to Kantar research, March 2020 is set to be the biggest month on record for grocery sales, with the average household spend increasing by £62.92 and footfall in supermarkets expected to be up by as much as 50%. These shopping patterns are evident across the border in ROI, where industry publications Checkout and Retail Excellence report similar patterns.

Adapt and reassure your audience

Where there is disruption and uncertainty, it’s normal that fear swiftly follows. Brands have never been closer, or more accountable, to the public as in these days of social media. Millions of people sit at home, acting as judge, jury and executioner and it’s no surprise if brands are more cautious about their advertising strategy in a time of crisis. High demand for essential items has left consumers with limited or no choice in brand across thousands of product lines, so advertising price and product messages may seem foolish and crass. Coca Cola and McDonald’s achieved global coverage for the changes to their branding during the crisis, while the Guinness ad which wasn’t from Guinness went viral. Paddy Power used Digital OOH to thank the NHS and deliver a stay at home message. Where price and product would usually feature, brands are adapting to deliver a reassuring message – thanking their own staff, the key workers on the front line or stock updates.
It has been widely reported that we’re going to head towards another global recession, with initial economic forecasts underestimating the scale of the looming pandemic. During times like these, marketing budgets are often the first to be cut, especially where activity isn’t paid upfront and can be paused and restarted relatively quickly. According to WARC, “in the short run, going dark has little impact on brand or brand metrics”, however in the long term, reduced advertising budgets have been shown to damage the market share and weaken the brand health. 58% of advertising’s impact happens in the long term (“The long-term impact of advertising” by Matt Chappell, Ebiquity , available via WARC).

Honest, reliable advertising

Fake news and inaccurate messages can be harder to distinguish from the important messages at the best of times. At the worst of times, when our media consumption (especially from online sources) increases, it can be hard to filter out the untruths. While the audience may have dropped off in some locations, significant footfall is still evident on the path to purchase. For those brands who need to communicate to large audiences, OOH and Digital OOH in particular remains on, responsive and honest.
At PML Group, our roots are firmly entwined with family. It’s where we came from and we celebrate in the successes of our clients, direct appointments and media partners as though we are family. Similarly, in times of strife, we’re here to help. Our priority, first and foremost is delivering messages of safety and public information in locations that are still being visited by thousands of people every day. Dwell times have increased as retailers operate social distancing policies and limit access. As a specialist marketing agency, we have the insights and information to ensure the right message is delivered at the right time, and to the right people.
As the popular phrase goes, when times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise. We’re closer to the beginning of this than the end, and when it is all over we’ll take great pleasure in being OOOH; Out of our homes.

(*, 242 respondents surveyed 23-27th March 2020)