Advertising During the COVID-19 Crisis—What to Do and How to Do It.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended businesses across the world. If you’re a business owner, destination, organization, etc., advertising was likely one of the first expenses you cut when this crisis began. But now that lockdowns have been lifted and businesses are slowly beginning to reopen, the question of how to advertise during this time is on a lot of people’s minds.

Start with Research.

These truly are uncertain times, and everyone is vulnerable. Now is not the time to “go with your gut” when it comes to advertising. Fortunately, a lot of research is being done across industries to evaluate consumer sentiments. Start by reading any available research for your industry. Many of our clients are in the tourism and hospitality industry, so Element has gathered a plethora of research in this area. Some notable findings include:

  • 82% of travelers planning to travel in the next six month will change their plans (Longwoods).
  • 89% of respondents want brands to keep them fully informed on how the brand is protecting its employees and customers (Edelman).
  • 57% of respondents want brands to stop any advertising or marketing that is humorous or too lighthearted in tone. And 42% say brands should avoid escapist advertising (Edelman).
  • 71% of respondents indicated that companies they see placing profits before people during the crisis will lose their trust forever (Edelman).

Much of this research surveyed national and international audiences, and while it is a great indicator of consumer sentiment as a whole, surveying your own customers can help you glean complementary insights. If you’ve been building and maintaining a customer email list, good for you! Put that list to use to see how your customers are feeling and what they’re thinking during this time. Keep the survey fairly brief and offer an incentive for customers to complete the survey. You can use these insights along with insights from industry research to begin developing an effective advertising plan for your business during the crisis.


Incorporate these insights into your advertising messages.

Warning: your advertising will and should look different during the COVID-19 crisis than it did before.

As you saw above in the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 special report, consumers want brands to focus on what they’re doing to help provide solutions to our biggest challenges right now instead of just selling their products or services. While it is somewhat unique for each business, messages should focus on what you’re doing to keep employees and customers safe and how you’re supporting your community and those who have been most affected. Messages should also be hopeful and encouraging during what is a difficult time for everyone.

You may say, “But I still need to make money to keep my business alive.” We believe you can still do both. When consumers see that you are placing the care and safety of others above your own profits, this instills trusts and increases the likelihood that they will turn to you for your product or service.

Here are a few examples of recent advertisements from brands who have taken this research and clearly applied it to their messaging.

Keeping Employees and Customers Safe


In this TV spot, Starbucks is welcoming back customers by letting them know the safest way to enjoy their favorite beverage again.


Similarly, in this TV spot McDonald’s is letting their customers know that the safety of their crew members and customers is their number one priority.

Supporting Communities and Those Who Have Been Affected

United Way of NYC

The United Way of NYC shows their support for frontline workers in this TV spot utilizing user-generated content.

Placing Peoples’ Safety Over Profits

South African Tourism

South African Tourism created a series of spots for their “Don’t travel now, so you can travel later” campaign. By urging potential travelers to postpone their trips until it is safe to travel, they are clearly prioritizing travelers’ safety as well as that of the people of South Africa.

Adjust your ad placements as necessary.

Everything has changed, including our media consumption. Even with restrictions being lifted in many parts of the United States, people are still encouraged to stay home when possible. This has translated into increased TV viewership, streaming of online content, and use of social media for nearly every demographic. A study by Global Web Index found that 87% of US consumers are consuming more content since the pandemic began, with broadcast TV, online videos, and online TV streaming being the primary mediums. You can take a deeper dive into their findings here.

Take some time to evaluate which mediums your pre-pandemic advertising plan were focused on. Are those mediums where your target audience is spending the majority of their time these days? If not, you’ll need to adjust. And as things are changing rapidly, it’s important that you continually reevaluate to ensure your media dollars are being spent in the most impactful way.


By Sidney Gilliam



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