Adland Must Accept Brands Are Not Spending Their Way Out Of This

Another day, another raft of emails pitching stories on tips from working from home and suggestions for ad-tech and martech vendors and other assorted adland execs that now is not the time to pause advertising.

I remember the same messages coming out with the 2008 global financial crash and the dot-com bubble bursting a decade before. It seems that every ten years or so we get a seismic shock running through advertising, and now, digital advertising. The response is always the same. Brands are told they should spend their way out of the problem. Adland hopes the message gets through, but secretly know it's barking up the wrong tree.

I do afford myself a wry smile as the pitches for "don't panic, just keep on advertising" stories arrive. The argument is always that so many more people are at home, they're just sitting there staring at a screen waiting to be told what to buy.

The moment one then navigates to the headlines one sees an inconvenient truth. Twitter is warning it will soon go back to losing money and Facebook is signalling it expects revenue to go down. These announcements are no surprise, and they are not as worrisome as news that a huge brand like Coca-Cola GB is suspending all second-quarter marketing activity. 

From my discussions with marketing people, it would appear that tough conversations are just starting to take place at brands around who is furloughed and who stays with a pay cut. This, of course, will then feed into every marketing and advertising agency over the next couple of weeks as campaigns are suspended and future activity put off before it even began. 

So, yes -- there is a lot of attention online and the social media giants are talking up spikes in usage at the same time as they reveal ad revenue will be going down.

What advertising needs to remember -- or at least those who want to talk up the angle of spending our way out of this dilemma -- is that attention is one thing and intention to buy is quite another. So too is a brand with budget.

At the moment, there is widespread fear that jobs will be lost or furloughed. Nobody truly knows where they are going to be in a month's time, other than stuck at home trying to convince kids to do maths homework rather than play on the Xbox. The stuff these people need to buy is already clear to them. It's simply food and the basics to get by.

Nobody is in-market for a new car, holiday or weekend away right now, the idea of a new tv or sofa might be really appealing right now, but who's sure they're going to be able to afford it?

So adland needs to get real. There is no way it can convince brands to spend their way out of the looming recession -- certainly not while people are stuck at home and unsure whether they will be working (from home) next week.

For me, the best advice I have received in the past week or so came from a chat with a martech company that has decided to stop trying to sell. Obviously, if someone converts right now they're going to be more than happy -- but let's be honest, it's unlikely. Instead, they're getting in contact with existing customers and prospects offering extra advice that previously might have required a business to be a customer or to be on a certain support package. 

Helping out in a difficult time is as good a strategy as any for brands and adland to consider because it will stand them in good stead when we go back to whatever "normal" is going to look like in a few months' time.

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