Brands told to tone it down and stop ‘COVID-vertising’

Brands which are attempting to be hyper-relevant and tailor their messages to the COVID-19 pandemic should instead go back to basics and target consumers with what they actually stand for.

This was the view of a panel at Nine’s Big Ideas Store, which explored the challenges marketers will have to confront during the uncertain Christmas advertising period.

“There’s been this trend recently, this kind of COVID-vertising style. And I think that while that feels like it’s the right thing to do, because it’s highly relevant in that kind of moment, I think that brands are forgetting what they stand for and what makes them different,” Tourism Australia’s executive general manager of strategy and research, Rob Dougan, said.

“So I think coming to [the Christmas] period, I think brands should stick to their guns and stand for what they always authentically stood for. Rather than trying to be hyper relevant to the moment, continue with what works from your past, and just tone it down a bit.”

Toby Boon, Nine Powered’s director of strategy, insights and effectiveness, agreed that ‘faking it’ when consumers are so on edge, would not bode well for brands.

“Especially now, we’re so hyper-aware of brands being inauthentic, and Christmas is such an emotional time that I think it’s really important that they listen to what people are actually doing, and also there will be some changes in behaviours,” he said.

These changes will include media consumption habits, which traditionally drop off during the Christmas and holiday period. This year, he said, consumers will change their consumption behaviours and be more engaged.

And with Christmas last year marred by environmental tragedies and social pressures, and this year’s season likely to be shrouded in COVID-19 anxieties and knock-on effects, the panel said brands will need to change the way they do Christmas.

Boon ‘unpacking’ what Christmas 2020 will look like for consumers and brands

Boon said the way Christmas is portrayed in popular media is at odds with the Australian experience, which simply won’t work as consumers face their second troubled season.

“2020 isn’t just any Christmas. It’s a Christmas like no other,” he said, noting that just when it felt like we were coming up for air from COVID-19, we were hit by another wave.

“And from all of this anxiety and disruption, came a shake-up in our attitudes and behaviours, as well as what we place value on.”

Nine’s view of the themes that will be important for brands in Christmas 2020

His advice to brands heading into Christmas is to “put your weight behind smaller, local businesses, and donate to Australian causes and charities”.

“Be authentic in your communications,” he added. “Give meaning to what you do, and reward your customers with thoughtful touches to your products and services. It’s been a tough year for business, but it’s been a tough year for your consumers too.

“Small gestures to put a smile on their face at the end of a long year will go a long way to building positive brand sentiment.”

He said the golden rules for brands looking to capitalise on Christmas in 2020 are: focus on flexibility and simplicity, find ways to take the pressure off, let go of traditional ties and embrace the ‘Aussieness’ of the season, extravagance is out, selective indulgence and experience is in, embrace the shift towards local, and quality over quantity.

Brands need to focus on their Aussie flavour, Nine said

The challenge, however, will be for brands to get the balance right, with Rebecca Brody, strategic director of The Lab, pointing out that social and economic inequalities will be exacerbated come Christmas time, particularly in light of the pandemic.

“More than ever this Christmas, brands that are able to provide a range of solutions that address the fact that people will be coming out of this at different stages is going to be really important,” she said. “Because one person’s idea of a lavish food item for the Christmas table might look quite different to someone else’s, depending on where they are in the country and their personal situation and their personal financial situation.

“So it’s really about having that range and that flexibility on what you’re offering to cover that full spectrum of people’s experiences.”

9Honey’s Jo Abi’s advice was for brands to ‘lean in’ to Australia’s differences, and finally embrace the unique Christmas experience of the country.

“I think Christmas this year, there will be a lot more Aussie pride. We love Australia. We don’t have snow. We are boiling and sweating while we’re eating our Christmas lunch, and it’s time to acknowledge that,” she said.

“Australia’s done a great job getting through COVID and looking after each other in the bushfires, so let’s acknowledge what makes us different at Christmas time. And this year I think there’s going to be a real focus on Australian products, Australian-made presents, and really just celebrating what makes us unique – which is 40-degree temperatures and baked ham.”


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