Lockdown Looms -- Advertisers Must Deal With Britain Staying At Home

Wow, that's how to give a press conference. By the time it took me to do the school run and get home on Friday, just after 5pm London time, Boris had managed to fill our street.

To be more precise, he'd managed to fill our street with people heading off to the pub for a final few pints before "time please, ladies and gents" was called for the last time for who knows how long?

We all went to bed this weekend in a country that would have looked like a socialist dream not even Jeremy Corbyn could have imagined a few months ago. The state has taken on a crippling debt of paying four-fifths of the average employee's wages just to make sure they have a job to come back to once this is all over. 

The other impact of the weekend was the National Trust making its open spaces free to use as it waived car parking fees on pleasure trails and places of natural beauty. After pub revellers paraded past our front door Friday night, it was the turn of motorists all weekend heading to a local beauty spot.

It was a similar scene that was reported across the country as people appeared to be passing by one another closer than the recommended two metres, prompting Boris to warn that social distancing advice could soon be tightened up.

It is now looking highly likely that the country will be told to stay indoors at some point this week. It won't just be strong advice but, like going to the theatre or the pub, we're going to move from we don't advise it to we directly ban it.

Which begs the question -- does that mean we're only going to see digital marketing flourish? The streets are already looking sparse and most shops have closed their doors. That can only leave outdoor hanging on for dear life. Print is likely to be the same as Londoners are now going to have the Evening Standard pushed through their letterbox rather than handed out at train and tube stations. One would have to ask how sustainable that is, given the promised targeting of reaching busy Londoners on their commute, not anyone living in a house the paper boy happens to walk past. 

Sure, many older people might have a paper delivered, but the amount of customers you see in a local shop buying a paper to put in the van for lunchtime or to take home and read with their morning coffee. That market has to have all but disappeared already. 

Now, there is television, of course, and you'd imagine everyone is flocking to watch the news. Well, yes they are, but remember this is Britain and the big channel that's winning out here, as Havas Media Group research has discovered, is the BBC. So, there's no advertising there, and conversely, we're seeing ITV cancelling its dividend, freezing the production of shows and hoping to cut GBP100m from its costs to mitigate a fall in advertising revenue. 

So we have the country's leading commercial tv station pausing filming and slashing costs to cope with COVID-19, while the channel we're all flocking to doesn't offer ads. We have towns and cities that are emptying out as workers stay at home rather than become exposed to outdoor campaigns. We have free newspapers being shoved through letterboxes to tackle this same issue of Londoners staying at home.

That, of course, leaves digital -- and it's still going to struggle slightly, but with advertisers rather than attention. In fact, it is probably enjoying more attention now than at any other time, but there are no shops open looking to drive footfall through banners. There are no restaurants, cinemas and theatres looking to get bums on seats and booking travel, vacations and just overnight accommodation are behaviours that no advertiser has seen for a while.

I suspect digital will keep ticking over quite nicely, but every other channel is surely going to seriously struggle as people stay at home to watch ad-free news and stream their favourite shows on ad-free Netflix. 

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