- Information for:
- Future Students
- Current Students
- Employers & Industry Partners
- Alumni & Friends
- Faculty & Staff
“When you talk about marketing, you’re talking about the entire strategic package: Discovering customer needs and wants, developing market offerings in the form of products and services to fill those needs and wants, offering them at a price that meets or exceeds the customer perceived value and then communicating that value to customers.”
Dr. Karen Hopkins, a marketing expert and lecturer in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, says even though people tire of image advertising, companies must run those ads to keep up with competitors. She also discusses how companies have had to change their communications strategies and channels to reach consumers.
How has the world of marketing and commercials changed due to the pandemic, and will it ever return?
When you talk about marketing, you’re talking about the entire strategic package: Discovering customer needs and wants, developing market offerings in the form of products and services to fill those needs and wants, offering them at a price that meets or exceeds the customer perceived value and then communicating that value to customers.
Commercials, advertising, are the communication of the value that companies provide to them and to the world. And people are watching. Closely.
That said, what has changed? Consumer wants and needs have changed, relative to what this pandemic has meant for them and their families. Our children’s needs have changed. The ability to travel as freely as before has changed.
Marketing is based on the idea of exchange of resources. Most often, money for goods and services, but also time, information and mental and emotional energy are things that consumers are willing to invest in order to get the things they need. For most of us, our access to resources has changed. For example, some people might have much more time on their hands, but less money. Others may have had to work overtime, like those in health care or in the supply chains of certain industries, and therefore have plenty of money coming in, but no time, and perhaps they aren’t able to go home to their children or elderly relatives in the spirit of social distancing. Anticipation of the availability of those resources in the future also plays a part in consumer confidence, which is a huge influence on what people are willing to buy and purchases people might put off in the face of uncertainty.
So, for different segments of the population, media consumption has changed. How much and where people go to find entertainment, escape, information and to do their jobs and take care of their families has changed. In most segments, according to AdWeek, consumers are spending remarkably more time online, not surprisingly. It’s up to advertisers to put their messages in places that their target audiences will see and accept them.
When the pandemic rose to the public awareness in the way of social distancing and business suspensions, companies responded with those non-product-specific image ads with messages of reassurance that they were working to bring things back once this is all over. These were the ads that we saw satire about—all of the messages were exactly the same: Things are uncertain, but we’re here for you, and everything’s going to be okay, and so on. However, that was the value that companies could provide at that moment: reassurance, transparency (“we’re in this, too”) and moving forward.
Are media companies losing advertising during the pandemic?
Yes, broadcast media have taken a huge hit in advertising revenue. Think about it, though: no sports events, production shut downs for new material, increased focus on news, but many consumers taking a break from news. On May 1, Ad Week predicted that the worst is yet to come. When companies are uncertain about consumers future spending habits, they are going to be uncertain about all aspects of advertising: what products and services to offer and where to tell about them.
Think about that, though, in light of the changes in media consumption. More people are streaming their entertainment, so you may see people in the near future join the cable-cutters movement and migrate to the streaming services for movies and programming and to social media platforms for other content. It makes sense.
“Advertising and other forms of consumer communication are increasingly dependent on content generation. It’s the message that counts, and delivering that message in the context of other content that provides helpful tips/life hacks, information, entertainment or other things that consumers want and need in their lives is what companies are choosing to devote their energy toward.”
Advertising and other forms of consumer communication are increasingly dependent on content generation. It’s the message that counts, and delivering that message in the context of other content that provides helpful tips/life hacks, information, entertainment or other things that consumers want and need in their lives is what companies are choosing to devote their energy toward. While communicating with customers primarily meant creating advertising campaigns for specific media like television or print media in the past, it’s now about putting your message where consumers are looking for other things. Investing in social media platforms and establishing a presence there that goes beyond advertising a product is where companies are spending more of their money and energy.
Ad Week and some other industry press noted a change in the media spending during this time. What we have to remember is that advertising, to be effective, must meet customers where they live. You must communicate with people where they are listening. So, what’s happened during the pandemic, when people were sheltering in place, often away from school and work? For many, the whole routine changed, including their media consumption routine. They were streaming video, playing video games, working and studying online. When things were mostly locked down, we were (and in many instances still are) using social media platforms to both stay connected and to tune out, or escape.
What are the benefits of advertisements showing support for the public during the crisis? Would anyone notice if companies didn’t run them?
That’s a great question, and it bears to mention the age-old adage by the great retail pioneer, John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” What’s important about those support messages is that consumers are watching companies carefully now. More than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that are socially responsible. So, if a company chooses to communicate a message of support or highlight the efforts they’ve made to help their employees, the community, they need to be sure to put their money where their mouth is. If they portray themselves as being benevolent during a time of crisis, but then stories of mistreatment of employees surface, consumers will vote with their pocketbooks.
What are the best types of ads during the pandemic?
That depends on what you mean by “best.” Everyone’s looking for a laugh, a moment of levity in all of this, so entertaining ads are good from that respect. The image ads are now kind of a dime a dozen, but if a direct competitor has one, you might want to also have one. Your customers might go there because they have been reminded that the competitor is doing good deeds. Effective, purchase-generating advertisements are more likely to be those that appear on social media and have a direct response element. Email advertising, believe it or not, is effective right now, because most purchases are being made online—even for the things we never thought we’d buy online, like dinner from a restaurant or groceries—that putting the ad online right next to the “purchase” button is really effective.
About Karen Hopkins:
Karen Hopkins, who holds a doctorate in marketing and is a lecturer in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, has 16 years of industry experience in marketing and public relations in professional services, non-profit and corporate retail environments. In addition to teaching, she engages in research about marketing and public health and in business and marketing teaching and learning. She is an experienced on-camera and voiceover talent for commercial and industrial audio/visual productions, and has applied these talents to computer-based and distance learning from instructional design to delivery.