Winning Ad Campaigns Start With Strategic Messaging

Writing Commercials During a Crisis

Adapt. Accelerate. Be authentic.

These three terms can help marketers as they’re writing commercials, tweaking ad campaigns and adjusting media buying strategies right now.

Customer understanding is the foundation of any effective marketing campaign. Insight into your customers’ wants and needs, as well as their fears and aspirations, should guide your marketing strategy and the creative campaigns that follow.

Careful monitoring and refining of campaigns after they launch is always essential. That is even more true during extraordinary times, when consumers’ normal behavior is upended by an outside force.

“During times of crisis and at all times, the key to successful marketing campaigns is being able to adapt your messaging to remain relevant,” says Sarah Whipkey, executive creative director for OBI Creative. “Be honest and real. Move quickly and craft messages that resonate in real-time with your key audiences. Don’t settle for ‘ad speak’ that may seem ‘safe’ but doesn’t actually connect with your targets.”

Writing Commercials During a Crisis: Strategies for Success

1. Don’t go dark.

When a crisis hits, especially an unprecedented one that upends the normal patterns of life, it is critical for brands to keep talking. Going dark might save money upfront, but it will cost you in the long run. Not communicating could lead to decreased mindshare, which will translate into lost market share down the road.

If you stop talking but your competitors continue to connect with consumers in relevant and meaningful ways, they will have more momentum, leaving you more ground to make up when you do start advertising again.

When chaos hits home, people want to hear from brands and entertainers they know and trust.

They want ads, like the one Kellogg’s ran, which reminded consumers that while much of life had suddenly changed, Kellogg’s was there to make sure breakfast wasn’t one of them.

Consumers are paying attention to commercials.

They’re watching brands closely and are judging their messaging. Whether it’s “Tiger King” on Netflix, “Onward” on Disney+ or catching the latest COVID-19 updates on the cable news networks, Americans are streaming (and live streaming) like mad. Without live sports and events to attend, people are finding new outlets for their passions. Traditional cable platforms don’t appear to be meeting that need.

Advertisers can capitalize on this.

2. Connect on the right channels.

Advertising inventory is abundant. Brands and agencies that use TV as a medium should start looking at streaming, especially in FAST (free ad-supported streaming) platforms like Pluto.

In the same two-month window that Disney+ announced 50 million new subscribers, Nielsen reported a 3% decline in TV viewership among 18-49 year-olds. People are cutting cable, and as they do marketers should think about redeployments of their budgets into gaming, streaming and online video.

Brands sitting on the sidelines need to get in the game.

Online gaming can be profitable for marketers and should be considered as new additions to existing campaigns. Verizon announced a 75% uptick in traffic over its network that was directly related to gaming. Marketers will need to retool existing creative to fit within the tight timeframes gaming demands, but it’s a great place to connect with younger audiences.

3. Craft the right messages.

Not only does familiarity bring comfort, it helps people cope. Sending the right message to the right people at the right time isn’t just the cornerstone of all successful marketing efforts — it builds goodwill and trust between brands and consumers.

Adjust your messaging to communicate in a way that connects with your customers right now. Show that you’ve thought about what they’re going through and offer products and services that can help them in real and meaningful ways both now and once things begin to return to normal.

“People will appreciate you more knowing you know how to pivot and talk to them in real time and not just advertise to them,” says Whipkey. “Budweiser’s spot incorporating professional sports teams like the Braves and Angels overlaid with images of empty stadiums and busy first responders and health care workers really resonated. They highlighted how they were giving back and it was an excellent example of how to adapt a campaign quickly to create a powerful spot capable of building goodwill with consumers.”

Frito Lay, State Farm and Dove provide more examples of brands that smartly adapted their messaging to remain relevant.

4. Keep your messaging fresh.

Closely related to crafting the right message is keeping your messaging fresh.

Even if you adapted your campaigns eight weeks ago, when the shutdown occurred, you need to consider updating them again. As your customers’ experiences change, your messaging must evolve to connect with them through that change.

“When your campaign is crafted to connect with people at a certain moment in time, it’s easy for it to get stale quickly,” says Whipkey. “When the coronavirus hit, messages around it being an uncertain time resonated. Eight weeks later, they’re old and overplayed. People are finding their new normal and advertising messages need to evolve with them.”

Customer research, however informal, can be a goldmine for adjusting messaging quickly. Talk with your customers to find out what they are dealing with; understand their challenges and opportunities and then find ways to repackage your products and services in response to those insights.

If you are planning messages for spots that will run a few months down the road, try to anticipate what your customers’ needs and concerns will be and communicate in a broad, yet tailored way so that you will avoid coming across as tone-deaf.

“We’re working on a set of spots right now that are slated to run in the summer,” says Whipkey. “We don’t know what life will look like then, but we’re keeping our messaging true to the brand’s values and voice and are using examples that won’t feel anachronistic when they run. We know, for example that a message like, ‘stay safe and connected, now and always,’ will play well whenever it runs.”

5. Don’t skimp on quality.

A final tip to keep in mind is not to let the quality of your advertisements drop off just because money is tight or traditional resources aren’t available. The production quality of your advertising campaigns is directly connected to the quality of your brand in consumers’ minds. Cutting the corners on your creative executions now could result in a loss of brand equity later.

“Brands are trying to adapt quickly right now,” says Whipkey. “Not only is there not time for high production that takes a month to produce, but traditional video and photo shoots can’t be conducted while social distancing and travel restrictions are in place, so brands are having to get creative. Some, like Apple, are seeing success with user-generated content and sourced curated content from customers who are using their products in real settings.

“It’s fun to know that the average person is helping produce ads for big brands right now.”

If you get stuck or feel overwhelmed, just remember the three terms we started with – adapt, accelerate and be authentic. You’ll weather the storm and come out successful on the other side.If you want help designing creative that drives results, give OBI Creative a call. We’ll jump right in and help you craft a winning campaign.

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