Context, Creative Execution Key to Advertising During Pandemic

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AUSTIN, Texas—The COVID-19 pandemic presents advertisers with a quandary: Does TV advertising in newscasts with coverage of the coronavirus put their brands in peril, or is there a way to protect brands while advertising in the same news environment?

Further, would advertisers do better to concentrate efforts on non-news primetime entertainment like sports and sitcoms given the current climate?

Research authority MediaScience conducted an experimental study in April using its StreamPulse OTT testing app to find out.

The study determined that context is important. Advertising in a news environment is often safer for COVID-focused brand messaging. The study also revealed that informational messaging generally doesn’t perform as well as brand’s traditional ads. When informational messaging is important, commercials work better in a news environment, the study found. 

Viewers were exposed to two content environments: primetime comedy and news programming. Ad pods included a mix of standard ads and COVID-19-relevant commercials. Brands were tested as COVID-19 ads and as standard ads.

Responses revealed that context and creative execution are critical. For example, for aided brand recall across all genres, Amazon’s COVID-19 ad got a 90% lift over its traditional ads. Domino’s COVID-19 ad received a 9% lift, according to the study.

The research revealed creative executions that were informational, such as “our drive-through service remains open,’” fared worse than those with an emotional appeal to their messaging. In some cases, ads with an appeal to emotion outperformed a brand’s standard ads.

“What COVID-19-themed ads prove, once again, is that the emotional dynamics of good advertising don’t go away just because what we have to say is important,” said Duane Varan, CEO of MediaScience. “We need to ‘show’ not just ‘tell’ them our message—and do so in the right environment.”

For example, in the comedy environment, Ford’s COVID-19 brand messaging had a negative impact on brand sentiment in ad-liking and purchase intent, revealing the risk such advertising poses to brand equity, the study showed.

News may provide a safer environment for brands needing to communicate key information because news viewers respond better to information-driven messaging, according to MediaScience.

An alternative for such brands could be on-screen graphics over traditional ads to convey critical messaging, the research organization added.

Separately, Phil Napoli, a public policy professor at Duke, speaking during a press briefing April 29, cautioned that advertisers are reluctant to place ads in COVID-19-related news environments.

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“We’re seeing advertisers blacklist, essentially, coronavirus news,” he said. “That means using key words to make sure their ads don’t appear along stories on coronavirus issues.”

“That creates an ironic situation where the news in highest demand is actually the type of news that is most economically vulnerable. That is the nature of what, I would argue, is a market failure,” said Napoli.

More information is available on the MediaScience website.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.