The great messaging race has begun. It started with a frantic rush to pull TV ads that may now make viewers cringe.
In one ad for Apple’s AirPods, a woman is walking the streets of New York City. It’s cramped and overwhelming. She puts in her AirPods and, poof! Manhattan’s streets are empty.
Or there’s a KFC ad, set to Chopin, in which the camera zooms in on people eating fried chicken, licking their fingers and their partners’ fingers.
Television advertising is attempting to make a switch from consumerism to community. Pulling ads is one thing, but it’s hard to shoot a compelling new TV commercial under quarantine.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from clients asking us: ‘Well, what is anyone else doing?'” said Jim Nail, marketing analyst at Forrester. “Just because there’s never been an experience like this that you can reach back to or draw on to give you any guidance.”
Nail said some companies are replaying old ads, while others are making new ones with unused material from previous shoots. They’re pivoting to ads that capture the moment with a tone that’s quiet, contemplative and focused on family.
An AT&T ad that started airing in late March shuffles through photos of empty streets and shuttered storefronts. The voiceover says: “These days, it’s anything but business as usual. That’s why working together is more important than ever.”
Companies that can get creative in this chaos will have an audience: Nielsen data shows that when people are forced to stay home, they watch about 60% more content than usual.
“It’s easier to get the eyeballs,” said Edward Russell, a professor of advertising at Syracuse University, adding that the brands that spend now may fare better during economic downturn. “At the same time, you have to take into account the state that people are in, and what you can do to lessen that and comfort them in some way.”
Comfort in uncertain times can come with a familiar theme: red, white and blue. “After 9/11 we saw very pro-American, let’s-all-get-together kinds of advertising,” said Russell.
After September 11, General Motors put out a series of ads called “Keep America Rolling.” They’re slices of classic Americana. One is shot as if you’re the driver, rolling through what looks like middle America.
TV ads like this tell us a lot about the moment we’re living in, emotionally and economically. Think back to the Superbowl in February when the market was good, unemployment was rock bottom and we still watched live sports. Commercials were energetic, funny and even snarky. It’s likely we won’t see ads like that for a while.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.
What kind of help can small businesses get right now?
A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.
What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?
New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.
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