COVID-19 hasn’t changed consumer attitudes to advertising

by Guest Contributor Daren Poole | March 30, 2020

Author: Daren Poole

Daren Poole
Global Head of Creative

This post was written based on data available to 26 March 2019. We will continue to update our point of view based on any emerging data.

As the number of global coronavirus cases increases and stricter social distancing and lockdown regulations are put into place, brands continue to ask whether they should continue to advertise. Previously, we said that for most brands, spending behind the right creative will put the brand in a stronger position post-crisis than brands that don’t spend. New research adds the voice of the people: they don’t expect brands to stop advertising and are responding to ads in a very similar way to before the crisis.

Advertising should continue

According to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, only 8 percent of people believe that companies should stop advertising. This is supported in studies we conducted to understand how people are responding to advertising, with only 6 percent of UK and U.S. respondents saying that they don’t think it’s appropriate for brands to be advertising at the moment. Sixty-four percent say it’s OK for brands to advertise and 19 percent believe that they only believe it’s appropriate for some brands to advertise.

Asked why they believe that, it’s clear that marketers may be more concerned about causing offence than consumers. Those that say it’s appropriate for brands to be advertising say that life and the economy go on, there is still demand for products and services, so brands need to advertise. And many say that in a constant news cycle about coronavirus, advertising provides a sense of normality, or even distraction and escape. Those that believe that only some brands should be advertising don’t want to see content about products that people can’t buy or use because of shortage or about services that they are currently not allowed to use.

Consumer response to specific ads has changed very little

Last week, we re-tested ten TV and digital ads, from five markets, that we had tested prior to the crisis, to identify if people’s concerns about COVID-19 and the economy are affecting how they respond to advertising (Ads were tested in Brazil, France, Germany, UK, U.S.; categories include alcoholic beverages, entertainment, food, household products, retail and technology). On 95 percent of Link Now’s measures, the response to questions is unchanged from previously. At an aggregate level, while we see some small declines on headline measures of short and long-term advertising performance, these are not significant, and most importantly, the recommendations from studies for individual ads would not change from those given originally.

Individual cases provide guidelines for creative content during the crisis.

  • The response to an ad for anti-bacterial wipes improved significantly, reflecting the need for heightened levels of hygiene. When 75 percent of people believe that companies should not exploit coronavirus, this ad is seen as helpful because the messaging is in line with previous ads and therefore authentic. It doesn’t make reference to COVID-19 and it doesn’t need to: people can make that connection themselves.
  • An Aldi Easter egg ad, that uses gentle humour, is very well received. While 40 percent of people don’t feel that advertising should use humour now according to, they respond well to this ad, with the light-hearted tone providing a break from the news. Similarly, a Busch beer ad that uses dry humour is as well received today as when originally tested.
  • There is no evidence that scenes of people not social distancing impacts on response. One ad tested for an entertainment brand features scenes of mass gatherings and does not drive negativity.
  • Similarly, an ad for TV network Canal+ tested in locked-down France that shows more vulnerable elderly people in outdoor situations is not negatively received; the humour was as appreciated as when originally first tested. These cases point to people wanting to suspend reality when seeing advertising, just as they will be doing when they watch the programmes that ads appear in.

Implications for marketers

  • In most cases, advertisers can and should continue to advertise. Seeing ads helps consumers escape mentally from the crisis and can point them to products and services to help them during unusual times, or simply provided comfort and support.
  • Content doesn’t need to specifically reference coronavirus as people are all too aware of the situation. At the same time, it shouldn’t exploit it.
  • Content doesn’t need to be new. Old ads and footage can work just as well during the crisis as previously.
  • People don’t seem to be sensitive to seeing scenes that show banned or restricted behaviours. Similarly, the use of appropriate humour seems to be acceptable. However, testing is recommended to avoid any possible backlash that could damage the brand.
  • People’s response to ads in Link hasn’t changed with the crisis, so brands can test ads with confidence. At a time when many media budgets have been reduced, so ROI is more important than ever, this small investment can ensure that advertising lands as intended, delivering short-term sales and long-term equity for the brand.


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  1. Daren Poole, March 31, 2020

    Alison, I've gone through the same motions as you, and maybe it's because I sometimes wear my work hat too much!  I sat at home watching TV ten days ago, calling out the ads that showed things that our governments are imploring us not to do.  I soon got bored of doing that!  As lockdowns intensify, TVs are going to be a window into the world and and escape from our homes.  I'd really like to be reminded of how it was before and how it will be again, rather than a sad reminder of the present.

    I guess the moral of the story is that we need to take our work hats off sometimes and/or remember to keep asking 'normal people' what they think.

    As a slight aside, I love Skyscanner's Facebook video.  We'll have some data on how this is received next week. 

  2. Alison Smith, March 31, 2020
    Very interesting Darren - personally I found a recent San Miguel ad  tricky just because it showed lush scenes of sun and socialising that seem so out of reach right now - so I had a more emotional response to it than I would normally - half longing and half annoyed (get that out of my face when I can't do it!)  Sounds like that isn't 'the general picture and I totally get the wanting to escape to normality. Back in Blighty, the Archers (which is recorded 3 months in advance) still has no mention of Covid-19 and many kind of want it to stay that way as a little haven from the storm!

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