Advertisers Reduce, Stop Campaigns in Face of Coronavirus

Coca-Cola, Kohl’s, Marriott and Zillow Group are among those companies that have reduced or stopped marketing efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Facebook said its advertising business is “weakening,” and Amazon has cut back on its Google Shopping ads. Advertising giants Interpublic Group and Publicis delayed their financial forecasts, citing an uncertain future. During the Great Recession, said the WARC research group, $60.5 billion in global advertising vanished and it took eight years to “fully recover.” Some observers believe this crisis will be worse.

The New York Times reports that trade group IAB reported that, “overall spending on digital ads for March and April is down 38 percent from what companies had expected to lay out, and ad spending has fallen 41 percent on TV, 45 percent on radio, 43 percent in print publications, and 51 percent on billboards and other outdoor platforms.”

Boston University’s Questrom School of Business assistant professor Garrett Johnson noted, “if firms are bleeding cash as a result of Covid, we’re not going to be seeing too much advertising.”

In other signs of the impact, the Cannes Lions conference was canceled, the major TV networks will not go ahead with their annual upfronts, and both YouTube and Hulu postponed “similar events.” With production studios shut down, making new ads is nearly impossible. NYT notes that, “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon read a State Farm ad at the start of his shot-from-home episode, holding up a piece of paper “on which one of his daughters had scrawled the company’s website address.”

Other advertisers are trying to keep their TV and print ads away from dire news and images from the pandemic. In response, U.K. news outlets The Guardian and Daily Mail “wrote in an open letter this week that so-called blacklisting will cost news outlets more than $60 million if the pandemic lasts another three months.”

Companies that continue to advertise “are treading lightly as they try to find a way to keep customers aware of their products while acknowledging the pandemic.” Audi’s and Volkswagen’s online ads “spread out the letters and symbols in their logos to encourage social distancing,” similar to a McCann agency-created Coca-Cola ad on a Times Square billboard that “presented the company logo with the letters spaced apart.”

Created by the Hudson Rouge agency, an ad from Ford Motor’s Lincoln “underscored the theme of isolation,” showing the company “picking up a car that needs servicing and leaving a loaner vehicle in its place.”

Other ads have become more like PSAs, like one from Mucinex introducing a campaign called ‘Spread Facts, Not Fear’.” The Pattern89 AI platform revealed that, “images related to washing increased 600 percent in ads on social media last month … and depictions of crowds fell 54 percent.”

“Today, if you get the tone wrong, it’s an unforgivable sin,” said McCann Worldwide chief executive Harris Diamond. “The ability to reach audiences is unparalleled right now, but their willingness to accept marketing messages is limited to the right messages.”