San Francisco – April 1, 2020 – Despite many working from home, brands and agencies have been quick to adapt their messaging to acknowledge the coronavirus outbreak.
Bain Media Lab and AI pioneer Hive released analysis of trends in creative messaging related to the COVID-19 crisis using Mensio, an AI-powered TV advertising and sponsorship analytics platform. The research relied on analysis of Mensio’s creative library, powered by metadata created using Hive’s proprietary computer vision models, and Hive’s consensus-driven data labeling platform, which leverages a distributed workforce of more than 1.5 million registered contributors, as well as the platform’s real-time monitoring of ad occurrences across U.S. TV networks.
Bain & Company and Hive also announced an offer of free access to the Mensio platform through at least April 2020 for any national TV advertiser, media agency, or TV ad sales team to enable competitive intelligence and trend monitoring for creative messaging during the period of disruption. Eligible users can request access by registering at https://mensio.com/covid-19
62 brands release coronavirus-related TV ad campaigns over a two-week period
While the first U.S. coronavirus case was reported on January 21, the impact on most Americans was not material until mid-March when restrictions on travel and public gatherings and an increasing number of stay-at-home orders set in.
National public service announcements from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) began on March 13 and have since aired almost 1,500 times across more than 40 networks.
Verizon was the first brand to acknowledge the environment in its TV commercials. Itlaunched a campaign during the Democratic Debate on March 15 focusing on network stability so that “during times like this, Americans can stay connected to work, school and, most importantly, to each other.” Versions of the creative have since aired more than 2,500 times across 54 networks, in addition to airings from Verizon’s other coronavirus-related campaigns.
During the week of March 16, 22 brands across industries aired national TV ad spots explicitly or implicitly addressing the crisis. In the following week, that number increased to 62 brands.
There has been significant variability across categories in terms of how many brands have released messages, and how quickly those campaigns were released (see Figure 1). During both afore mentioned weeks, restaurants and automakers had the highest count of brands with active coronavirus-related TV ad campaigns. Across categories, there were at least twice as many brands active during the week of March 23 compared to the week of March 16.
Figure 1 – Brands with coronavirus-related campaigns by week
o Week of March 16-22: 22 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 62 brands
o Week of March 16-22: 7 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 18 brands
o Week of March 16-22: 6 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 12 brands
o Week of March 16-22: 2 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 8 brands
- Financial services & insurance:
o Week of March 16-22: 0 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 5 brands
- Tech & telecom:
o Week of March 16-22: 2 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 4 brands
- Other (includes travel & leisure, pharmaceuticals, and general services):
o Week of March 16-22: 2 brands
o Week of March 23-29: 5 brands
Brand messages focus on product and offering changes as well as general support
Initial coronavirus-related creatives fell into four broad buckets of messaging: 1) product and offering changes, 2) general support, 3) thematic marketing, and 4) virus-related information and calls-to-action.
Through March 29, 52 percent of campaigns and 64 percent of airings addressed product and offering changes. Fifteen restaurant brands composed the plurality of this group. Several quick service restaurants introduced “contactless” drive-thru, pickup, and delivery experiences; casual dining brands such as Chili’s and Denny’s announced waived delivery fees. Automotive brands were the next largest cohort in messaging product or offering changes, with nine brands releasing campaigns. This list included General Motors’ brands, which announced free OnStar Crisis Assist services and in-vehicle Wi-Fi data for existing Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC owners as well as zero percent financing with deferred payments and at-home delivery options for new buyers.
Twenty-six percent of campaigns and 20 percent of airings conveyed a diverse set of messages broadly aiming to show empathy and convey support. Quilted Northern and Angel Soft affirmed their commitment to restocking shelves with toilet paper. Anheuser-Busch announced that Budweiser would redirect its sports investments toward hosting American Red Cross blood drives at stadiums across the country. Walmart thanked its employees, many still working in-store to serve customers’ needs through the crisis.
Eight brands launched campaigns featuring existing products and services in the context of the crisis. Food delivery service DoorDash was an example, messaging that its network of restaurants was open for delivery through the crisis.
Six brands launched campaigns with informative messages, in addition to a series of public service announcements from parties including the CDC and American Red Cross. Among brands, Clorox shared a brand-relevant informational message providing instruction on how best to kill germs in the home.
While consumer surveys to date have generally found positive receptivity to brands acknowledging COVID-19 in their marketing messages, advertisers will face a challenge to differentiate over time. Even among the initial set of brands airing coronavirus-related creatives, the concentration of message themes has been relatively consistent within categories. Ninety-eight percent of restaurant airings have highlighted product or offering changes, as have 89 percent of automotive ad airings.
“Even if stores are closed or products are sold out, TV will remain a valuable brand-building channel for marketers. However, as the pandemic continues, brands will need to continue to evolve their messages,” said Laura Beaudin, a partner at Bain & Company, who leads the firm’s Marketing Excellence practice. “Consumers won’t want to see a full commercial break with each advertisement telling them how to wash their hands.”
Restaurants shift mix to delivery- and pickup-focused creatives
Restaurants have been among the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 outbreak, with many closing dining rooms at the request of local officials. While this has resulted in a growing number of independent restaurants closing their doors during the disruption, it has pushed quick service restaurants and casual dining chains to change their messaging.
Several restaurants have released new campaigns specific to the outbreak, including those promoting “contactless” transactions, but the broader category has shifted its mix of national TV ads towards promoting off-premise dining using both new and preexisting creatives. During the four weeks ending March 15, 24 percent of restaurant airings highlighted pickup or delivery options, either as the focal point of the message or with an end card (including those promoting partnerships with delivery aggregators such as DoorDash and GrubHub). That mix of restaurant airings promoting delivery and pickup options increased to 28 percent during the week of March 16 and surged to 52 percent during the week of March 23.
Free Mensio access during COVID-19 crisis
Bain & Company and Hive also announced today that a version of Mensio will be made available upon request to any national TV brand, media agency, or TV ad sales team, providing users platform access through at least April 2020 including:
• Access to Mensio’s commercial library to monitor and view new creatives from brands across industries
• Access to competitive intelligence to measure changes in airings, estimated spend, flighting, and mix across brands
• The ability to filter all data by creative groups, enabling more granular analysis of trends in messaging and creative characteristics
“Brands and agencies face uncertainty over if and how to maintain TV advertising investments during the COVID-19 crisis, what to message, and how competitive brands are responding,” said Dan Calpin, president of Hive Media and a senior advisor to Bain & Company. “The playbook on how to do this right is still being written, but it’s safe to say that no brand wants to be remembered for saying the wrong thing or nothing at all.”
Calpin added, “While the need for real-time competitive intelligence exists now more than ever, we know many companies face contract freezes preventing access to new tools to help understand how the landscape is changing. We view this offer as an opportunity to invest in the industry through the disruption.”
Note: Ongoing analysis and perspectives will be shared throughout the Bain & Company and Hive LinkedIn pages. Please follow for notification of additional releases:
- Bain & Company: https://www.linkedin.com/company/bain-and-company/
- Hive: https://www.linkedin.com/company/hiveai/
Editor's note: To arrange an interview with Dan Calpin or Laura Beaudin, contact Dan Pinkney at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 646 562 8102.
Hive is an AI company specialized in computer vision and deep learning, focused on powering innovators across industries with practical AI solutions and data labeling. For more information, visit https://thehive.ai/.
Note: Published Bain Media Lab research relies solely on third-party data sources and is independent of any data or input from clients of Bain & Company