When ‘Going Viral’ Means Something Different: How COVID-19 Has Affected the Advertising Industry

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By: Layne Crawford

April 1, 2020

From relative obscurity at the start of the year, to completely disrupting our way of life, COVID-19 has forcibly uprooted the advertising industry. The problems we’re facing as an industry may seem trivial compared to those in healthcare, who are on the front lines facing this pandemic, or food and retail workers who have been out of work because of business closures. There is no denying that a trickle-down effect is happening and agencies are trying to adapt quickly.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen countless events all over the world postponed or outright canceled. The big names on this list include SXSW, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Coachella, The 2020 Summer Olympics, the remainder of the NBA, NHL, and MLS seasons, and the start of the MLB season. Companies that allocated their advertising budgets towards these events needed to act quickly and make swift decisions. Advertising campaigns are thought of months in advance, so when large scale events like March Madness are canceled, event-specific campaigns are scrapped. Restaurants tend to advertise heavily during sporting events, but when these events are canceled and restaurants have to close or have to retool as takeout/delivery only, the messaging needs to be changed just as fast. A perfect example of this has been the swift action taken by the Restaurant Coalition and the Great American Takeout campaign.

Despite events being canceled and ad spends being cut, there is a silver lining in video advertising and social media. Individuals who are adhering to the CDC’s recommendations for self quarantining are spending more time watching TV (traditional over the air, VOD, and streaming services) and mindlessly scrolling through their various social media feeds. Brands are taking to social media to promote events curated for social distancing. A week ago, gatherings such as virtual concerts and celebrity Zoom hangouts were unthinkable.

Even with our clients, we have seen a dramatic increase in user engagement over the past week.

This pivot has gone even further, as brands are switching gears and producing products that they didn’t before, but are now in high demand. It was announced that several wine and spirits brands including Anheuser-Busch InBev will be producing hand sanitizer. Ford will be partnering with 3M and GE Healthcare to make respirators and other equipment to fight COVID-19, and Bauer has moved from hockey equipment to medical face shields. Companies taking these extra strides are potentially putting themselves in a position to gain additional clients once clear of the pandemic.

This is a weird time for the advertising industry. The future is uncertain, and COVID-19 will have lasting effects on the way we live our lives. While it may sound strange, at a time when brands are cutting budgets left and right, now is the perfect time to get creative and try something new. Sponsoring a virtual happy hour or giving a Netflix username and password to customers who tweet a picture of their delivered order could help businesses drive clients to them. Regardless of the economic troubles that are clearly in front of us, we can still utilize creativity as a driving force to keep us all connected.

Written By

+ Layne Crawford

Senior Copywriter

Layne Crawford is 321’s resident wordsmith and Senior Copywriter. They’re an art school graduate (University of the Arts ’10) who can barely draw a stick figure. When they’re not crafting quips, they’re spending way too much time looking for sneakers to add to their extensive collection.

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