Most Advertisers Are Making Adjustments to Creative Content Because of the Pandemic

Purdue Chicken chairman and pitchman Jim Perdue in an ad thanking those on the
front lines of the food industry, including farmers, factory workers and truck drivers

The large majority of advertisers have adjusted their creative since mid-March, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, according to a new survey by the Association of National Advertisers.

Of those surveyed, 90 percent of brands had made some kind of change in their advertising content, ranging from directly addressing the pandemic and its effect on communities to stressing more emotional versus straight sales messaging to backing off lifestyle imagery like large social gatherings.

Nearly half (46%) said their changes were substantial. Most advertisers surveyed (55%) noted that in-house teams had directed their adjustments. A sizable number (39%) suggested making changes to content was challenging, giving reasons that included closed-down studios and limited access to talent and crews because of the mass self-quarantining.

Earlier, Ad Age reported a survey from Advertiser Perceptions indicating that one-third of advertisers had canceled at least one campaign due to the pandemic. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they expected to cut ad budgets significantly this year, with 68% projecting less spending next year. While more than one-third reported cutting broadcast and cable TV budgets, nearly half said they were increasing their spending on Facebook and more than one-third upped the business they do with Google.

Ad Age is keeping a running list of how brands are responding to the pandemic. Numerous charitable efforts have been launched, ranging from Google donating free ad space to small and medium-sized businesses to eBay's accelerator program aimed at helping brick-and-mortar shops build their online sales operations to chains like KFC and Chipotle's donations of food to healthcare workers.

Among the brands that have addressed the health crisis in some way in their creative content are Perdue Chicken, which made an an featuring company chairman Jim Purdue thanking workers on the front lines; Little Caesars, which did a free-delivery tie-in with Conan O'Brien; and Taco Bell, which fashioned a campaign around user-generated drive-thru videos.

Such instances of brands doing good overshadows the bleak outlook for the ad business and those who rely on it. The recession — including the advertising recession (depression?) — is officially underway.

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