ANA: Marketers rise to meet coronavirus production challenges, prefer in-house work

Linda J. Dodson

Dive Brief:

  • Marketers are handling creative production well despite new obstacles posed by the coronavirus, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) found in a survey of 196 members. Just 39% of respondents said creating new assets has been a great challenge since a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in mid-March.
  • More than 90% of marketers have made adjustments to their strategies during the pandemic, with nearly half (46%) noting those changes have been “substantial.” Verbatim comments from ANA members described how their brands are pivoting to “we’re here for you” messages over sales pitches, acknowledging social distancing and closures and cutting back on imagery related to travel and gathering in large groups. 
  • Fifty-five percent of respondents reported in-house agencies are the most important partner for producing new creative assets during the pandemic, while 42% cited other forms of internal teams. Around one-quarter (26%) said external agencies were very important.   

Dive Insight:

The ANA’s survey of its member marketers suggests that the industry has quickly adjusted to new working realities under the coronavirus pandemic. Many are relying on internal teams as studios shutter and shoots become more difficult, putting a premium on a cheaper, more efficient content pipeline that can be fast-tracked to market without the usual testing.

Still, obstacles cropping up in this environment are significant, and budgetary concerns from marketing leaders like CMOs could make the situation more difficult over the long term. Companies are feeling the strain of having to conduct business as usual remotely and are also on high alert to avoid coming off as insensitive while consumers remain anxious about the coronavirus. Since regular production methods have largely stalled, brands are looking to repurpose existing campaign assets or archival footage, or to rely more heavily on mediums like animation or user-generated content to get their message across, the ANA found.

It’s fast and furious right now. We don’t have time to think/create — we simply have to get information out the door,” an anonymous ANA member said in a statement included in the report. “Not much time for creativity.”

Some efforts still appear to be resonating. Ford was the first major automotive brand to directly address the coronavirus with ads that used a mix of historical footage and text layovers to call out a financial relief program that was expanded to include customers impacted by the pandemic. The creative ranked as more likable and attention-grabbing than corporate branding norms, according to an analysis by Ace Metrix.

Carmakers and marketers in a number of other categories have deployed similar tactics to Ford, or chosen to spotlight frontline workers in areas like retail and healthcare in a show of support.

Consumers generally seem to be seeking practical, serious-minded messaging as they remain deeply uncertain, but believe brands can play an important role in the response to coronavirus. Over half (57%) of consumers recently surveyed by Edelman said they want brands to stop all humorous or lighthearted marketing and advertising during the pandemic.

The ANA’s latest findings are another indication that unique challenges raised by the coronavirus could lead more marketers to prioritize in-house work. In-house agencies have historically been positioned around cost and efficiency, and tend to specialize in the types of content production experiencing higher demand at the moment.

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