3 Things To Avoid In COVID-19 Advertising

There is no doubt that after nearly two months of lockdown, we are spending more and more time in front of our screens — an average of three hours watching TV (up by 10 minutes a day, as Sean Hargrave noted in his recent article), reading news online, or checking social media. This, in turn, means we are exposed to more and more advertising.

Of course, brands have needed to adjust their messaging, exercising empathy and sensitivity more than ever at this time. But that has led to two things.

First, ads related to COVID-19 can be increasingly hard to differentiate, following a similar formula of sentimentality and sincerity.

And second, and more worrisome, ads can hit the wrong notes -- actively turning people off brands and products because the tone or imagery doesn't resonate with an audience that has endured a lot over the past two months.

There are clear elements that the public really don't want to see on their screens right now.

Below are the three things to be avoided in your COVID-19 advertising, whatever your product or offering.

1. Crowded scenes

Although two months isn't long compared to a lifetime of crowds being the norm -- we're already being made uncomfortable (or envious) by the sight of large gatherings.

As the latest government update over the weekend confirmed, even if it's partial, the lockdown isn't going away any time soon.

Even our national game is likely to be played without the backdrop of cheering crowds and social gatherings and parties won't be part of our lives for a while. It looks like the public would like the content on our screens to reflect that reality.

Research shows that one in four (25%) people would be offended by new advertising that included crowded scenes, and a further 31% said they would find it inappropriate.

2. Football celebrities

Many footballers have raised money for those in need during the pandemic. For example, in early April, Premier League players came together to launch the #PlayersTogether initiative, which aims to distribute money where it's needed during these challenging times.

However, despite these acts of goodwill, the public (29%) think it's inappropriate to see footballers on their screens (unless it's to play football). 

With news reports of non-playing staff from some clubs being furloughed while high-profile stars continue to be paid, it seems the public are not in the mood for the celebrity sport star excess of a pre-COVID-19 world. 

3. People flaunting new purchases

With shops closed and nowhere to go, consumer spending has fallen massively since lockdown measures began. 

Furthermore, the economic effects of the pandemic mean that people have less disposable income with a large portion of individuals reporting that they have lost their job or source of income as a result of the pandemic or are seeing a decrease in money available.

It comes as no surprise, then, that just over one in five people (21%) would be offended by people flaunting new purchases during advertisements and 32% would find it inappropriate. Far from inspiring us or even cheering us up, it seems we don't want to be reminded of what we can't currently enjoy.

What do they want to see?

On the other hand, rather than becoming cynical in lockdown, the public enjoys seeing happy families at home.

From Zoom chats with grandparents to cosy movie nights to families enjoying lockdown barbeques, scenes echoing what they are experiencing -- or would like to be experiencing -- are popular. A fifth (21%) say they would strongly welcome it, and a further 17% said they would be glad to see these scenes. This was by far the public’s favourite to see. 

While messaging will be different for every brand, it's clear that different images provoke very different emotions. In this new world, even seemingly innocuous themes could be perceived as strange at best and downright offensive at worse. 

It is crucial that brands remain continuously aware of the nation's constantly shifting tone, and adjusts its advertising content accordingly.

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