Advertising in the Pandemic

By Madhurika Mathur

Little did we know that in March 2020 that we’d see a complete shift in life in and around us. The onset of a global pandemic left nothing the same but has opened up a new space for creativity and innovation. When it comes to companies, small or multinational, what works has now changed and will continue to, post the pandemic.

A quicker transition to digital

Although businesses had already planned to go digital in phases over the last few years, most of them that mapped out their digital strategy in one or two years have now been forced to undergo an immediate digital transformation owing to the restrictions enforced on movement and a massive shift in customer behaviour laid out during the pandemic. From grocery stores shifting to online stores and incorporating delivery, to online classrooms and to automation and digitisation of supply chains, every industry is now, in some form, by including new technologies in their business strategies, contributing to the rapid advancement of the digital age.

Shift in consumer behaviour and empathy in Advertising

It’s a no brainer that when the circumstances call for a change, so do consumers and their demands. This transition is being made by consumers that are familiar with various platforms and new consumer bases, like older generations unfamiliar with technology, to online platforms. Some obvious examples would be increase in the number of people accessing global news, streaming on OTT platforms and surfing through several social media platforms, where most Ads are shown. According to Nielsen insights, home-bound consumers have led to a 60% increase in the amount of video content watched globally. Therefore their screen time has significantly increased in these past few months which has presented ample opportunities for advertisers to push their Ads through to their highly engaged customer bases.

“We’re in this together”

We’ve seen now that a consumer’s obvious health and hygiene concerns as well as sympathy for the ones on the frontline have put certain expectations on companies to advertise their products and services with a tone of empathy which brings us to the countless campaigns telling the world that “we’re in this together” and capitalising on other fears and anxieties brought on by the virus.

What do people really care about?

Here’s an ad campaign to help us understand:

Recently, PepsiCo conducted a research with Ipsos and used it to change its brand communications strategies. They found that respondents believe empathy has become more important in light of the public health crisis and that consumers say brands can be empathetic by: treating people with respect, treating people like human beings, listening to people, caring about people and acknowledging when the brand is wrong. However, the most valued form of brand empathy identified by PepsiCo was responding to frontline workers and the community first. They also noted that a brand’s actions would play a role in influencing current consumers and how they engage with the brand in the future. While some want ads to uplift their spirits, be an escape or entertain them, PepsiCo also found that 93% of people surveyed want brands to provide salary and sick leave to employees, and 90% want businesses to be transparent about keeping workers safe. Additionally, 91% want to see brands help struggling local businesses and others want to see brands give back to people in need.

A general survey that Ipsos conducted in March 2020:

Thus, companies need to look at customer experiences from their point of view and provide them with correct information, easy interactive platforms and be transparent in their services, which is the need of the hour during a global crisis.

With empathy in mind PepsiCo launched their “Stronger Together” campaign that highlighted frontline workers in the south-eastern states of the US. PepsiCo visited four hospitals and universities across the region. The purpose of the program was to connect with consumers on an emotional level to show support for essential workers including nurses and grocery store workers by sharing their stories, some of which appeared as a 30 second ads on iHeartRadio’s Elvis Duran and The Morning Show and The Breakfast Club. Consumers nominated local heroes and winners would receive a $1000 care package (This was done considering workers worked extra hours without any overtime pay).

Source: Google images and


Here are examples of some interesting and some empathy-centric brand campaigns:

1. Dove showed us what “real beauty” looked like by showing faces of healthcare workers marked by protective gear with the tagline “courage is beautiful”.

Source: Google images

2. Coca Cola has since time celebrated positivity and togetherness and this time in their address to humanity, the company put a spotlight on the unsung heroes of the pandemic in a video with an apt song of choice: “Superheroes” by The Script.

Source: Google images and


3. IKEA- decided to pay homage to…well, our own homes, in this emotional 30 second advertisement where a personification of our home helps us relive important moments experienced in our households and showed us how there’s no other place like it.


*pictures are taken directly from the Ad*

How has the pandemic benefitted companies and Ad agencies?

According to WARC’s projections traditional media like billboards and print advertisements have taken a hit. Instead of growing by 7.1% which was a pre-pandemic forecast back in January, projections now show that aggregate global advertising revenue will now shrink by 8.1% in 2020. That means that companies dependent on advertising revenue may see a drop in revenue in excess of $50 billion net dollars, in this year alone. But this can be contradicted with an increase in numbers on social media and OTT platforms that has opened up a new space for creativity as companies experiment with content. Companies have also been compelled to return to the core of their business’ vision, which is engaging and involving customers at every step in their marketing strategies and following a more human centric approach by reflecting optimism in their campaigns. Moreover, brands have also been able to reach new audiences that they previously were not able to reach with Out of Home (OOH) advertising. The stay-at-home orders have limited resources but also allowed innovation and the exploration of social media platforms as a part of their new marketing strategy. This has also helped companies to achieve their short-term goals of marketing.


What does the future hold for Marketers and Advertisers and what have they learnt?

Nearly 6 months into contagion and economic uncertainty, if companies have learnt anything, it’s listening to their customers and altering their products and services as its not just about digitizing but reimagining customer journeys. Moreover, companies have learnt how to adapt to new technologies and constantly think out of the box by keeping health and hygiene at the centre of their strategy. As we shift to the “new normal”, a change in consumer behaviour patterns post Covid-19 is unpredictable at this stage but companies should also look forward to long term engagement online.