For the last three months, the now widely spread coronavirus has shaken global economies, causing widespread panic in communities, businesses and the financial and bond markets.
This has led to pronouncements of unprecedented measures by more than 70 percent of all the countries in the world that have been affected by the pandemic, among them African countries.
All over the world — from China to Italy, Egypt to South Africa to Kenya, governments are grappling with coronavirus, with citizens looking up to their political leaders to help contain the public health emergency of international dimensions as declared by the World Health Organisation.
Even as we let our leaders guide us, we still have to think about business continuity since brands need to find a way to be heard above all the understandable worry and panic, because every day, we get reports of rising cases, so social distancing is a new normal for many people to keep safe and avoid spreading the disease further.
This means as marketers, we have to not only adapt to the new normal but also find ways for brands and advertisers to communicate to their target audience without seeming tone deaf. Where do we draw the line between responsible communication and selling? We want to believe the pandemic will be contained as soon as possible and we will not have lost too much time.
The virus has led to cancellation of hundreds of business conferences, flights have been grounded, companies have sent employees home, some working from home, others on forced leave and we have witnessed panic shopping in preparation for a longer quarantine period.
With people staying indoors, we have witnessed changing media consumption trends. For one, invites to press conferences by government officials in Kenya are circulated on social media and heavily watched on mainstream and online channels.
In China, there has been a spike in APP installs after the country implemented national isolation measures. Most people around the world are now spending more time on social media and consuming more content from traditional television.
The hard-hitting effects of the virus to the Beijing economy is likely to have a great impact on the African continent as China is one of the continent’s biggest trade partners.
The value of China-Africa trade in 2018 was $185 billion, up from $155bn in 2017 after making trade pacts with 49 African countries.
While many governments and businesses continue to impose “work from home” policies for employees, high-trafficked pedestrian and tourism destinations are seeing a rapid decline.
This is negatively affecting the effectiveness of current Out-of-Home media placements as well as deterring media planners from considering Out-Of-Home in upcoming media strategy and budget plans. Further, there is declining use of newspapers as more consumers turn to digital news sources for content.
Coronavirus is a serious threat. African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger corporations who have so far suspended importation of goods are feeling the impact of its presence. Some airlines have called for pay cuts among its employees to stay afloat.
That the World Health Organisation — WHO has warned of the risk that COVID-19 could overwhelm strained public health systems in sub-Saharan Africa is enough caution for brands in this region to take strategic steps to avoid risk.
To begin with, understanding the cost of improper media placement will come a long way in protecting a brand’s reputation. In an era of fake news and evolving measures from governments, advertisers ought to read the current mood and see what opportunities are there to explore. An inappropriate placement will position your brand in a bad light, possibly for many years to come.
On brand impact, the best way for a brand to be helpful at this time is to be aligned with the government legislative stance and prevent appearing as if it is try to benefit from the crisis.
Coca-Cola has put on hold all its commercial advertising in the Philippines and directed its space and budgets for the same towards supporting COVID-19 relief and response efforts to the most affected communities.
Besides, advertisers can adapt several social listening and Keyword tracking tools to track the conversation happening around coronavirus online as well as competitor spending. This opportunity to track, analyse, and respond to conversations about your brand on social media places you on the front foot to react to your customers’ changing needs during this time.
On business performance, consider what the impact is on your business while advertising at this time. Do not put everything out there but instead review and identify which advertising campaigns are critical to business performance and can drive Return On Investment (ROI) at such a critical time. This process can include optimising your media strategy, simplifying the campaign and working with partners who produce cost-effective content at pace.
As we brace for what could be a major economic decline by a not yet well-understood virus, we must consider what the opportunities are at this time. With a looming global economic slowdown, creative problem solving and innovation will become critical levers to success in advertising.
Fully measured and ROI delivering advertising efforts will be prioritised to maximise reduced budgets.
The writer is CEO, Ogilvy Africa.