Australians are fine with your brand continuing to advertise, even if it’s not COVID-19 related

Both governments and organisations should continue to launch products and services, educate, advertise, and conduct research during this crisis, as Ipsos' Kathy Benson explains.

There have been some heart-wrenching events over the 30 years since the 1991 recession ‘we had to have’: 9/11 in 2001 and the GFC in 2008 are among the many events around the world that have taken a toll on humanity.

The economic, commercial and financial impacts of these events, however, do not compare to the devastating effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Ipsos’ latest global tracking results show that Australians are becoming increasingly anxious about the economic impact of COVID-19.

Brands should still continue to communicate with their customers through a crisis

In fact, more Australians are now worried about the impact of the pandemic on their financial security than on their health.

This begs the question: What should governments and businesses be focused on right now when engaging with Australians?

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There are many issues to watch and monitor over coming months. Governments are under pressure to lead and inform. Businesses – large and small – have to make the right decisions for their employees and customers. Meanwhile, people’s behaviours are changing in ways which may have longer-term implications beyond the immediate crisis.

We know from Ipsos’ weekly tracking that Australians’ behaviours are varying from the norm and they are rapidly adopting completely new behaviours. The extent of the behaviour change is creating a market landscape in flux. Businesses can no longer depend on what they think they know about their category and consumer behaviour.

Key questions for organisations to consider at this time include: What are we doing that could be seen as not ‘doing enough’? And, are we doing something that might be actively detrimental or seen as inappropriate?

Many organisations are struggling with adopting the right tone but, at the same time, saying and doing nothing is almost as bad.

Ipsos consumer research from 25 to 27 March indicates there is clear permission for organisations to continue doing a range of activities including conducting market, social and opinion research.

The majority of Australians (78%) are still willing to share their views and opinions with organisations during this time and believe that organisations should continue to engage and interact with their customers to understand their needs (83%).

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Less than one-quarter (23%) believe that organisations should stop all non-related COVID-19 online/ digital activities, and only 28% believe that organisations still doing market research or advertising on matters not related to COVID-19 are being insensitive.

Other than undertaking activities related to COVID-19, the vast majority of Australians believe governments should maintain activities related to mental health, crime, cancer prevention, public housing, the environment, and the experience of patients in hospitals. Of slightly less, but still high, importance to Australians at this time are road safety and transport issues, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and recycling.

But even conducting other forms of market research not related to COVID-19 are still seen as appropriate by the majority.

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Despite the external environment, intrinsic motivations do not change during a time of crisis. In fact, for some, they intensify, and some people might be more engaged, more willing to help and have a stronger internal need to have a voice and express their opinion, regardless of whether the topic is related to the crisis or not.

These times could be a window of opportunity for organisations to obtain a greater level of cognitive engagement, resulting in greater clarity and more informed responses simply because people have been jolted out of their norms.

Many organisations have a healthy fear of being viewed as being inappropriately opportunistic if they maintain normal activities in a time of crisis. But while it is vital to avoid being perceived as a crisis profiteer, organisations should not let this caution dissuade them from being active in the market.

In times of crisis, it can be tempting and less risky to go into containment mode, quietly weathering out the storm. But there is a unique window now for organisations and brands to show leadership and earn trust by maintaining their presence, staying in touch and showing a commitment to normality. Our communities, consumers and customers are looking for leadership, truth-tellers and counsel.

With the right framing, both government and organisations should continue to launch products and services, continue to educate, advertise and communicate, and continue to conduct research.

It is rarely good for organisations to ‘go dark’, both for the long-term impact it may have on the organisation as well as the negative effect of being perceived as silent, inert or slow to act during times of crises.

A delicate balance must be struck to convey the purpose of the activities; these normal commercial functions are still important in such an abnormal world.

Kathy Benson is Ipsos’ chief client officer


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