Advertising was in turmoil even before COVID-19 turned the turmoil into chaos. The industry took far too long to catch up with the digital world, many assuming that you could take an advert from a bus stop and stick it on Twitter, job done.
Just when advertising executives had ironed the digital transformation kink out, along came the virus and stood it on its head again.
When COVID-19 first struck the bottom fell out of advertising spend. In a crisis, the first things to go are marketing and conferences. This time conferences were forced to go, marketing followed.
Then, when companies realised that they need to keep their name out there to keep the doors open, the creatives went to work.
The result is a new range of adverts with common themes of empathy, tact and positive messages. Volkswagen pulled the planned advert for their new ‘go anywhere’ SUV and replaced it with snippets from dealers and a message that customers can defer payments. KFC pulled their advert that shows people licking their fingers. The airline LATAM changed their strapline from ‘Together, Further’ to ‘Further, Together’ and told a story of people dreaming of future holidays while LATAM is busy delivering essential healthcare and goods, to keep things moving.
Meanwhile, there is a new set of rules in advertising. Sectors are being very specific about the stories they want, or more importantly do not want, to be next to, physically. The travel, food, banking and automotive sectors do not want to be next to stories on COVID-19 (good luck with that). The sectors that want to be associated include pharmaceuticals, Government, not for profit and telecoms and tech.
Enter programmatic advertising.
Although programmatic advertising is not infallible (there is a column in the UK’s satirical magazine Private Eye called ‘Malgorythms’, for instance an article about care homes, next to advert on funeral directors, you get the picture) it’s time may have come.
In China, certainly, programmatic advertising is proving its worth.
“While overall ad spending growth is slowing down, marketers allocate more programmatic dollars to improve efficiency,” said Fang Cai, chief operating officer of programmatic buying platform Yoyi Digital. “We are still seeing strong growth in the sector.”
The November forecast by eMarketer says that less than 30% of advertising is now ‘outside programmatic pipes’. Whilst there is a need for a global standard for programmatic advertising to work at scale (particularly things like real time bidding), automation is taking off.
While there may well be amusing moments and advertising may remain in turmoil for some time to come, the industry could end up in a better place than before.
Advances in data analytics, data management and investment in programmatic platforms might now get us beyond the inappropriate adverts, the annoying messages and the general ridicule.
In its place, if we are lucky, we might get relevant adverts that remain tasteful and generous and empathetic. Gone may be the days where adverts relied on selling style and ‘cool’ and social climbing.
Social distancing will be a big challenge for the advertising industry but, hopefully, a good one.