Commentary

Medium Will Remain, Message (And The Marketer) Must Change

Much has been written about the demise of media spending as COVID-19 gripped the nation and sequestered Americans in their homes for weeks, and still weeks to come. eMarketer has even revised some of its initial predictions for what should have been a seemingly more recession-resilient form of media during this particular type of crisis: TV.  According to The New York Times, some leading digital-first brands are also exhibiting symptoms, as was noted in an article headlined "Even Facebook and Google May Face an Ad Slump." Radio and OOH also have their crosses to bear. 

These headlines only tell of the doom and gloom of the financial implications of this crisis. 

I’m keeping a more optimistic view on what we, as marketers, will do differently, and hopefully better, in our next normal. I expect marketers will be working hand-in-hand with their advertising partners to create and share more empathetic brand stories. 

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Moreover, given how the pandemic has affected Americans, my hope is advertisers will leverage the power of media for ad campaigns and messages that not only sell goods and services, but inspire and support people and communities. 

As this next phase begins, we must answer the question “What have we learned?”

First, we’ve learned human connection is critical to our well-being. Yes, we knew that already. But we may have taken it for granted. And in times like these, brands that exist to connect people or build communities like TikTok, Facebook Groups and Reddit, hold infinite possibilities for future success. Media companies have pivoted with ad solutions to help these brands reach consumers who are staying connected across these social apps. 

Second, media companies have had to innovate by redefining audiences affected by COVID-19 (for example, lapsed shoppers, essential workers, home proximity), by helping brands reach people in a world where “sheltering in place” right now is the norm. We’re seeing unique retargeting efforts across platforms for frontline workers and other consumers who travel and need essential products and services. And some companies have launched campaigns to spotlight critical workers and businesses — as they’re not just valued partners, but key economic drivers. 

Third, not unlike after 9/11, we’ve learned that safety will be redefined. New processes and products will emerge to address safety and health across business sectors. Sanitizing sprays and fashionable masks are popping up on social media and online retailers. Industries from travel to fitness to banking to QSR will shift to new protocols, and those protocols will have to be marketed with nuanced sensitivity reflecting the time our nation spent #AloneTogether. 

Fourth, companies and individuals have learned to better appreciate others while “revisiting” and even inventing new ways of saying, “thank you.” I say “revisited” because I feel, as a nation, that sentiment was always there -- we needed a reminder. 

This has played out in brand tributes to workers like nurses, sanitation workers and truck drivers across most media channels. Among other inspiring activities, we’ve seen towns lighting their cities blueto thank essential COVID workers. 

Looking toward the country reopening, some brands will take a wait-and-see approach to advertising for fear a campaign may seem insensitive. Understandable. But it’s our job as marketers to take these learnings, apply empathy to our communications and marketing and forge forward — together.

2 comments about "Medium Will Remain, Message (And The Marketer) Must Change".
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  1. Brian Deffaa from LifeBridge Health, May 22, 2020 at 1:37 p.m.

    Great article Kenyatta and I agree.  Our job is to break-out of the "we're here for you" malaise everyone seems to be stuck-in and do something more meaning (and creative) than find new ways to sell the same products.  It's about finding a human connection - not me-too advertising.

  2. David Rippe from Celestia, May 26, 2020 at 3:22 p.m.

    Great insight. I enjoyed the article. I think many have come to a more enanched awareness about the need for human connection, even as the news media highlights the panicked, tragic side.

    But, the more one looks inside the more enlightened one becomes. The pandemic has caused much more soul searching and reflection on what really matters. I've long been a proponet of spiritual marketing—finding that place that resonates with others. 

    This article does that as well. Thank you.

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