Ad Creative During A Crisis

By Kunal Gupta, CEO of Polar

Originally Published on LinkedIn

We are not only witness to, but all active participants now in an ocean of crises. The first wave, a health crisis, continues to peak and dip. The second wave, an economic crisis, has pushed tens of millions of people into unemployment and even more into financial insecurity. The third wave, a social crisis, has brought the spotlight to the discrimination present in nearly every dimension of society.

What is a marketer to do with creative, in this ocean of crises?

In digital media, much attention has been paid over the past decade to audience targeting. Google and Facebook’s dominance is because of their data. Programmatic workflows enable brands to more efficiently target their desired audiences. The death of the cookie, privacy regulations and identity are hot areas in ad tech, all focused on audience targeting.

What is clear is that prior to this ocean of crises, little relative attention had been paid to creative in digital. 70% of performance is creative though and now more than ever, creative has come into the spotlight. The health, economic and social crises have challenged brands to be more thoughtful, timely and relevant with their creative, and with fewer resources.

Polar is used by agencies and publishers to deliver over 1 billion ads per month, all non-IAB creative formats, where brands have the space to flex their creative muscles. It is clear to us that all brands start with creative on social platforms. The creative they build for social is better than what they build for the web, if they get there at all. Our team looked at the creative choices from the thousands of brands who have used our Social Display product in the past few months to see what we can learn about creative during a crisis.

Trust During A Crisis

Consumers do not know who to trust during a crisis. People will increasingly turn to media and brands for leadership, who have an ability to influence the conversation through both editorial and advertising. Trust and brand equity is built over time and accelerated in moments of need, like this one.

At the start of the health pandemic, many brands pivoted creative quickly to be aligned with what was top of mind for customers. Most road on the coat-tails of public health messages focused on hygiene and stay at home orders, and did a good job of working it into creative. Some brands went further with relevant offers and highlighted social good campaigns that they made available to customers.

Prediction: strong brands will continue to prioritize the common good over specific short-term commercial outcomes when faced with a major crisis.

Relevance During A Crisis

Advertising is about connecting with customers. The right channel with the right creative can be a powerful combination. We have seen plenty of examples of marketers adapting their creative, in real-time, to be relevant, useful and informative. The changes to creative to improve relevance do not have to be earth-shattering though. Less can be more, to balance the line of being topical but not trying too hard.

Here are some examples from social, where brands start when it comes to building creative, especially during a crisis. Be it the subtle reference by food brand Tenderflakes to cooking with the family, to clothing retailer ASOS branding ‘stay-at-home essentials’ or trade association Australian Avocados highlighting the health benefits of avocados, these are all great examples of subtle creative adaptations to increase relevance.

Prediction: creative investments will be seen alongside audience targeting, as equally or even more important, to improve customer relevance.

Channel Alignment During A Crisis

Customers will engage with brands across different media channels and maintaining a coherent message cross-channel becomes even more difficult in digital. This is especially true during a crisis when creative is changing rapidly, and even more important when the need to be tone-sensitive is at an all time high.

See this example of UBER Eats creative for social (Instagram) and the web (IAB formats), compared with American Express. UBER Eats has clear consistency with their creative where American Express does not. Which brand would you guess manages creative in-house, and which brand outsources creative to different agencies?

Prediction: this crisis will inspire many marketing teams to centralize creative cross-channel, either in-house or with a single agency.

PR During A Crisis

With the newscycle changing by the week, the wave of crisis has presented an opportunity for brands. Recent surveys of what the public believes brands should do in a moment of crisis is to not stay silent. While there remains tons of backlash against the endless streams of company statements that may not be backed up with action, the data shows that saying something is better than staying silent.

What was evident in the announcements of support and action for the current Black Lives Matter movement, and the first wave of announcements of support for front-line workers at the onset of the health pandemic, is that the creative was fairly lackluster. It is PR driven creative versus marketing driven creative, heavy with words instead of visuals.

Prediction: PR teams will invest more in creative to tell their story, which has to be designed for the visual-first channels where their customers are now.

Priorities During A Crisis

Overall, it has been inspiring to see many brands prioritize the mainstream conversation over their own marketing campaigns across their earned, owned and paid media channels during the past three months. Many of the ad industry trade headlines have commented on marketing teams getting anxious about “getting back to selling”, which will happen in due course, however we hope that brands do not lose sight of the long-term equity they build in the eyes of their customers by being present, useful and relevant.

Trust and brand equity is built over time and accelerated in moments of need, like this one.