The New Realities of Advertising During COVID-19
Disruption has become the buzzword of the past six months. Typically a term reserved for groundbreaking new technologies, the ongoing pandemic has been the first major disruption in a long time. It has forced people to stay inside, and it has changed the way we work and interact. For many retailers, this could be the single biggest disruption they will ever experience, as businesses struggle with implementing social distancing guidelines, finding alternative shopping methods, and adapting advertising and marketing strategies to suit this new environment. Things that were considered best practices for building a brand in early March — full stores, flashy advertisements, pop-up events — have now been permanently upended. For this new era of retail, a low-tech approach may be what’s needed to get stores through the pandemic.
A Brief History of Advertising
With most things throughout history, advertising methods have shifted over the years based on how consumers get their information. Before television, Netflix and social media, most consumers read magazines and newspapers or listened to the radio. This created niche areas for businesses to advertise. In fact, the first shows on the radio — soap operas — were created to help soap companies sell their products. These weekly shows were the first versions of product placements. For other brands, full-page advertisements in magazines and newspapers dominated their advertising effort — until television came along.
With the advent of television came an increase in spots for advertisements and the ability to segment audiences. With fewer people turning into weekly radio shows, ads on those outlets became more localized, whereas television was the place for national brands. This also allowed for increased creativity and competition. Television events like the Super Bowl produced in-demand spots due to the sheer number of viewers.
However, in order to stay in the minds of potential consumers, advertisers had to wow the audience. Television ads still live on, especially during major events, but with the internet taking over as the preferred source for news and entertainment, advertising has shifted. Social media dominates as the best avenue to listen to consumers, while online streaming has created fewer spots for advertisers. Overall, the landscape of advertising was already evolving for brands ... until COVID came along.
Advertising in the Time of COVID
Unfortunately, by the end of March, most 2020 advertising plans were already out of date. That’s because the world was rapidly changing, and no one could predict the next moves. For example, advertising on the radio during peak commuter hours doesn’t make sense when nearly half of the American workforce is no longer commuting. The same can be said about billboards and bus stations ads: with more people staying home, formerly busy areas are now desolate. Billboards are a costly investment most of the time, but when there’s no one on the road to look at them, their return on investment drops quickly. With so many advertising channels in trouble, businesses need to think of alternate solutions to drive high ROI and sales.
Back to Basics
Before the pandemic, experts noted that most Americans are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements a day. Now, with everyone forced inside, consumers can only see ads in their homes or in the stores they frequent. The strategy behind reaching people at home is easy to adapt, as we already have television and social media ads. But the pandemic has created a unique opportunity for advertisements in-store, and this opportunity comes from something that we’re already seeing everywhere.
Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen a shift in physical space. People have been forced to distance themselves from other shoppers and staff. In order to move through these new spaces, we’ve seen an influx of social distancing decals. These decals direct consumers where to walk, where to wait and where to stand. As we navigate this new normal, people are paying attention to these stickers more than anything they’re seeing on television or in other forms of media. And herein lies the solution for advertisers: stickers and decals are a necessity in this pandemic era. They're already attracting people’s attention, which makes them the perfect vehicle for ads. Whether you're building a brand, showcasing a new product, or advertising a sale, floor decals can draw the eye of every shopper who walks through a store.
For most advertising executives, decisions come down to ROI. How much will this advertising stream cost compared to the number of people who will be seeing it? For the Super Bowl, the cost is high, but there are almost a billion viewers and potential customers. For social media, the cost is lower and the audience is more targeted, leading to a higher ROI. The benefit to advertising with stickers is that the cost is low and there are hundreds of potential customers. Until we’re all experts at shopping during the pandemic, which likely will never happen, people will have to pay attention to the decals that tell them where to go and stand every time they enter a store, restaurant or public space. That’s an incredibly high ROI.
Spread the Word, Not the Virus
As we navigate the new normal, people are paying increased attention to the brands that care about their safety — and especially to the ones that don’t. By going back to basics, companies aren’t forced to take advantage of the vulnerable by pushing their brand in unseemly ways that include tacky ads, pushy emails or obviously sponsored social media posts. With custom decal advertising, brands are able to show they care through utility, as these stickers are virtually a necessity in this new age. Companies can also advertise in a relatively risk-free way, as they don’t have to invest too much money in getting custom decals made. Keeping people safe while getting their messaging out there to as many potential consumers as possible is what will help brands survive the pandemic.
Andrew Witkin is the founder and CEO of StickerYou, a global, e-commerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products that empower consumers and businesses to create high-quality materials for personal expression, marketing and packaging.