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No touching, no actors – how advertising is changing in the time of isolation

Scenes like shaking hands, walking through crowds are disappearing from advertisements as companies come to grips with public health orders.

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London: Shaking hands has a publicity problem — so does walking through crowds, attending a concert and passing out high fives.

Scenes like these are disappearing from advertisements as companies come to grips with public health orders to self-isolate and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Ads that were in the works have been shelved and campaigns have to be reworked on a short timeline. Travel and hospitality companies have gone quiet. Meanwhile, with so much of the world on lockdown, it’s not exactly easy to shoot new commercials.

“You have to ask what meaning does your commercial have right now, given that everything has changed in the immediate realities of life,” said Mark Lund, chief executive officer of McCann Worldgroup U.K. “How do you avoid that tone deafness which might offend and alienate people?”

The U.K. advertising regulator said it got 163 complaints about a KFC television ad in March which featured people licking their fingers. Complaints said it was irresponsibly encouraging unsanitary behavior, according to a spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority. When the agency contacted the fried-chicken fast food chain, whose longtime slogan is “Finger lickin’ good,” the company had already decided to pull the ads.

Unilever Plc suspended its “Unstoppable” campaign for Domestos, including a video ad that said the toilet cleaner kills germs that are “hiding, breeding, infecting the weak.”

Getting Inventive

In addition to new sensitivities around hygiene, advertisers are having to cope with limited resources to make new commercials as production crews and actors self-isolate.

“World War II comes to advertising land. What can you make out of this empty washing-up-liquid bottle and a bit of sticky-back plastic?” said Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer of Digitas Inc.’s U.K. business. “It’s about being inventive.”

Also read: Covid-19 hits print media hard — ads and circulation dip, editions see major digital push

A cookie brand that Digitas works with had to pivot quickly from a campaign about going out to one about staying in and staying safe, she said. Agencies are getting creative with footage that’s already been shot, and they’re looking at user-generated content and social-media influencers, though the quality can be hit-and-miss, Fosse said.

Lund said that McCann has done an ad for grocery store Aldi using existing footage and resurrecting an animated carrot from its Christmas campaign telling shoppers to “go easy” on the vegetables.

As the lockdown drags on, advertisers will also have to make the decision about whether to make a bigger pivot on campaigns, such as commissioning more animation and using computer-generated imagery that can be produced by teams of graphic designers, art directors and 3D modelers working from home.

“The likelihood is things will take a bit longer, but there is no creative compromise,” said Mark Benson, CEO of global creative ad studio Moving Picture Company. Brands are coming to the studio to complete ads that were already in production with special effects, he said. “For example, an auto spot where the car would have normally been shot by a specialist auto director — it still can be, but the car will be built by animators in computer graphics instead of shot live-action on location.”

New Technology

Animation and visual effects studios were already changing the way they work so teams can collaborate remotely, and shifting computing horsepower from office servers to the cloud. The shock of the coronavirus will hasten the move to new video production methods, said Neil Hatton, CEO of film and TV industry lobby group the UK Screen Alliance.

“There are parallels with the Japanese tsunami, which accelerated a move from production delivered on tape to production on computer file as the tsunami wiped out the tape-manufacturing companies on the coast of Japan,” said Hatton.

For an industry that prides itself on creativity, ingenuity is more important than ever. Advertisers may be facing a worse setback than the 10% retraction in marketing spending that followed the 2009 financial crisis, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Bloxham said. Ads typically cost companies the equivalent of about 11% or 12% of sales and are easy to reduce. The slump is going to spread quickly from the travel and leisure industry clients, who cut their spending immediately, to luxury goods, cars and clothes, he said.

“We know that it’s going to be quite a sharp kind of effect — the question is how long that effect goes on for,” McCann’s Lund said. “We’re having conversations with our clients about what does the world look like on the other side and what does it mean for brands and how they exist in people’s lives.” –Bloomberg 

Also read: Hotstar, Netflix urged to stop ads, HD content as coronavirus lockdown overloads internet


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