Who Will Advertise Now That We're All Staying At Home?

Well, this whole coronavirus thing suddenly got very real Monday, didn't it. London's quieter tubes and streets had already suggested many who could were already working from home but what now?

Many will see Boris' speech as bungling but the lack of clarity, I suspect, was more calculated than that. Either he didn't have the heart to call time on pubs, bars, clubs, cinemas and theatres or, as is more likely, he didn't want the government to take formal responsibility for them shutting down for an unknown number of weeks or months.

Trust me, Boris and I have exchanged a hello a couple of times on the tube in the past and he is not the bumbling fool he appears to be for the cameras. I know people who have worked with him and they agree he is as shrewd as they come. His modus operandi is to allow the ambiguity of his words to work in his favour. Shutting down bars? No, not all. We're just telling people not to go to them.

The vagueness of yesterday's announcement certainly left companies scratching their heads as to where it left them. Last night, statements on entertainment websites were asking the public to be more patient as they sought clarity on what on earth does "strong advice" for people to avoid socialising constitute?

Had the government ordered the closure of all the venues where people congregate, one can imagine there would be a massive clamour for compensation. Boris would also draw comparisons to a dictator. I'm sure there would have been a spate of articles checking current law to such a move is legal, possibly leading to references to someone like Cromwell closing bars under some ancient law that had never been repealed.

As it is, we have an uncertain situation where the "strong advice" of the government is to avoid bars, restaurants, theatres, gig venues and the cinema. That leaves the venues themselves to carry on paying staff to open up to virtually no customers or to lay off staff until it's safe to socialise again.

As an avid theatre-goer, I was interested in the response of the big theatres. Hamilton -- that ten dollar founding father without a father -- called it right away. Shows were cancelled, bear with us. Ambassador Group were typical of many saying we're not sure what's going on. All were probably relieved that Monday night is traditionally a closed night for theatres. 

This morning bought more announcement of shows being "suspended" without use of the cancelation word which would entitle us all to refunds on tickets rather than exchanges of tickets for when the show finally gets going again.

The entertainment industry is doing what the conference sector has done. It is postponing, wherever possible, to avoid the nightmare cash flow problem of having to reimburse businesses for exhibition space and customers for tickets.

This is the big take-out I've received from ad-tech and martech companies recently through direct discussions and social posts. They're mostly not getting their money back, so they have no magic budget to release to market their way out of the next few months. The shows they have paid for are being put back until autumn, when they will get compressed next to one another.

It leaves us with two sets of brands. For one, modern data-rich business that work through online delivery or ordering are sitting pretty -- think Deliveroo, Spotify, Amazon and Netflix. The others are cash-strapped businesses that nobody will be buying from for quite some time -- think cars, restaurants and hotel brands. Would you feel comfortable booking a weekend getaway or putting down a big deposit on a new car right now? Will you be booking a Mother's Day lunch or a family meal for Easter? What about those pre-theatres drinks and nibbles, now there no theatres, clubs or cinemas to go to?

Then we have the ultimate Catch-22 group of business who are likely sitting on cash for services that have not been rendered and have instead been delayed. This won't apply completely, but one can imagine there are many theatre groups sitting on cash reserves for full houses booked in advance and holiday companies who have taken deposits for summer holidays and maybe even full payment for Spring breaks.

They're going to all they can to defer delivery to another date so they are not bled free of cash from disgruntled customers. The big "but," though, is there's no point in them advertising right now, nobody can or wants to buy what they have to sell.

It's hard to see a silver lining here. The supermarkets do not need to advertise their wares, people are queuing up to get inside. Hospitality and entertainment companies are either strapped for cash or sitting on deposits but with no need to advertise because they have nothing the public can buy right now.

If you're sitting on a bunch of smart data, have a loyal fan base for your app and can serve people in their home, you're sitting pretty. Everyone is going to have a hell of a time riding this one out. Campaign readers today estimated adland would lose around 20% of revenue. My own feeling is that would represent a very lucky escape. 

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