Advertising During Covid

Coronavirus Crisis Impact on Advertising & Brand

Consumer study finds that advertising doesn’t necessarily need to address Covid-19 concerns, but businesses should tread lightly….

DW Creative Marketing and Brand Research firm, BrandCertain, have commissioned a national study to help understand public sentiment on advertising and brand communications during the Covid-19 pandemic.

OVERVIEW

Our lives have been disrupted in a way we never could have imagined. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken consumers and shuttered businesses. So, why conduct research about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on advertising and brand at this moment in time? There is a deluge of conjecture by so-called experts being pushed into the mainstream about how businesses and companies should address the crisis. But since most of us have never experienced anything like it in our lifetimes, no one really knows for sure what to do. Study co-author Dave Wieser of DW Creative Marking put it best:

“This is such a game changer that businesses can’t rely on historical data such as past depressions.”

To successfully navigate this unprecedented time in our history, facts not opinions are needed. Getting it right now might position your business or company better for when we finally emerge from the worst of the crisis. We do recognize the situation is fluid and this round of research is not a crystal ball. It does not attempt to project beyond this point in time if consumer attitudes about advertising and brand will change with the ebbs and flows of an unpredictable pandemic. That is why we are committed to returning to sample at least two more times to measure any changes and release that additional data and insights to help your business or company in the coming weeks and months.

THE SAMPLE

The survey was conducted online from April 6-9, 2020. The primary screener was age with those under 18 disqualified. In all, 1,200 respondents, recruited by third-party sample provider, Dynata, completed the 10-minute online survey. It was distributed equally among general consumers in four regions: The Northeast, South, Midwest and West.

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THE RESULTS

Is it necessary to address how you are handling the coronavirus crisis for your employees and customers in your external advertising?
If you don’t, will it hurt your business or company?

At this point, the research suggests that if you don’t overtly address it in your advertising you likely won’t be penalized by consumers. Among the consumers who recall seeing ads or messages anywhere (TV, online, social media, apps, emails, etc.) that do not reference how they’re addressing the crisis for employees or customers, two-thirds indicated they either feel “about the same as the they did before about those businesses or companies” or “more connected” to them when combined.

However, 1 in 5 consumers did indicate that they feel “less connected” to those businesses and companies, and they appear to be a vocal minority. When asked why they feel that way, sentiments about those businesses and companies being tone deaf, showing a lack of caring or putting profits before people prevailed.

Elsewhere in the study, consumers were asked if their perceptions had changed about some of their own favorite or preferred brands during the crisis. The majority indicated they had not. But among the 39% that do or might feel differently, sentiment was equivocal, with nearly the same number of consumers feeling more positive, neutral or negative. Those who feel better about those brands praised them for being selfless. Those who feel worse about those brands criticized them for being self-centered.

Variances: Those who feel even “more connected” to brands that do address how they’re responding to the crisis were of higher socio-economic status (income and education), and those who feel “less connected” to businesses and companies that do not address the crisis are more likely to be females or Democrats. Those consumers who indicated their perceptions had changed about some of their favorite or preferred brands were more likely to be between the ages of 18-39 (53%), non-white/Caucasian (53%), and have children under 18 living in the home (50%).

If you do address the coronavirus crisis, will it help you or is it just table stakes?

With 2 in 5 consumers indicating they feel “more connected” to businesses and companies that convey what you’re doing to address the crisis, the evidence suggests they could benefit from it. However, it should be noted that the exact same percentage of consumers feel about the same (35%) or less connected (6%) to businesses or companies when those totals are combined. Additionally, and also aggregated, another 15% either didn’t have an opinion or felt those businesses or companies were trying to take advantage of the crisis.

Variances: Consumers reporting 2019 household income over $50,000 and having at least a bachelor’s degree were even more likely to feel “more connected to businesses and companies that address the crisis.” Retirees (62%), men (57%) and adults age 40 or above (56%) were even more likely to “feel the same as they did before about businesses or companies that do not address the crisis.”

What are people most concerned with when communicating how a business is handling the crisis?

People most want to know that their welfare (and that of the employees) is being prioritized over the needs of businesses and companies. When the 41% of consumers who indicated they feel “more connected” to those addressing the crisis were asked why, powerful themes around “protection,” “support” and “unity” emerged as reflected in these select verbatim responses:

  •  “Why? Because it shows the companies care about people more than profits.”
  • “They actually take the time to let me know what steps they are taking to protect their customers, myself included, and they take the time to make me feel like a valued customer by providing me with that information.”
  • “Any business that cares for their employees is a business I want to support.”
  • “They're making the effort to stay connected, and I appreciate that, even though I realize I'm an easy email address paste and copy away.”
  • “It feels like they are trying to stay open and help out other people financially.”
  • “I feel like everyone is in this fight together, so I feel more connected to those that take a stand to help.”

Perhaps, the overall sentiment of consumers about those businesses and companies that are addressing the crisis was captured best in this response:

“Gives a human face to a business in a time like this.”

While this study is primarily focused on communications and purchasing behavior, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that this is really about how businesses and companies behave. Consumers want businesses and companies to be situationally sensitive, selfless and vigilant.

How has this affected the timing of major purchase decisions in home improvement, furniture, automotive, etc. How does it vary by demographic and socio-economic factors?

The majority of consumers will be holding off or won’t be making a major purchase in the next six months. Lack of need, will make do a little longer with what they already have and concerns about the crisis lingering were cited as primary reasons why. Among the 31% that indicted they will move forward with one in the next six months, confidence that the economy will rebound and having not experienced any interruption in household income were the top reasons why.

In terms of variances, consumers who indicated they would purchase new furniture (which was the top major purchase at 37%) were most likely to cite “out of necessity” as the reason why. Also, consumers reporting 2019 household income of $100,000 or higher were more likely to be moving forward with a major home repair or renovation in the next six months. That income segment, along with those denoting they were Republican, were most likely to choose “the economy will bounce back” as the reason why.

What brand attributes are most important to consumers during this time period?

Consumers are most looking for brands that portray human characteristics such as honesty, genuineness, transparency, and problem solving. They also want brands to be convenient. Considering that we are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, it is somewhat surprising that only 18% selected “helps in a crisis” and just 13% chose “charitable.”

Variances: “Honest” was the number one attribute overall at 33% but that was driven by retirees (46%) and adults over age 60 (42%). “Transparency” was chosen by more consumers reporting 2019 household income of $100,000 or higher. Those more likely to select “helps in a crisis” were non-white/Caucasian respondents.

Where there any other significant differences in the results from the overall scores?

One of the more surprising outcomes was how sentiment was uniform across all four regions of the country. No matter what the question, there were no significant differences in consumer attitudes or perceptions base on geography. Therefore, the results should apply regardless of where you do business.

Next steps?

As noted earlier, we will follow up with two more surveys at certain points in the timeline of the pandemic to track potential changes to existing perceptions or attitudes, as well as look for new ones, to help businesses and companies evolve as the crisis does.