Some Thoughts On How to Navigate the COVID-19 Times

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  • March 26, 2020

By now we’re all clear that it’s not if or when we will feel the effects of the coronavirus: they are here and happening now. We also know that the effects go beyond health, and transcend to the economy, our social lives and even our sanity. The big questions we are facing now are around the magnitude and length of those effects. And since there’s no precedent to an event like this in human history, we are learning how to adapt without a playbook. We’re learning and reacting in real time.

Humans First

As advertising professionals we are responsible for coming up with strategies to help brands navigate these unusual circumstances. We’ll get to that. But what we’re facing now is much bigger than our industry, so my approach is to go back to basics and focus on the human element. We’re all humans first, and we are all in this together.

Feeling anxious or stressed is normal. Not only are we learning how to adapt daily, but we’re also doing this while trying to come up with answers for the bigger questions. How long? How will this affect my financial situation? How will this affect our kids’ long term education? When will I be able to have a “normal” life again? Not being able to even attempt to have an educated guess for these questions can make you feel uneasy.

In a recent virtual meeting with the leadership team at Captura Group we shared some strategies to help us cope. I want to share them with you, as I believe that in times like these we need to be more generous than ever.

Channel Your Emotional and Mental Energy Towards Something Positive

Sometimes in the worst times, the best ideas can flourish. Use your energy to come up with a creative idea, experiment with arts and crafts, learn something new, or simply sit down to put your thoughts into words (like I’m doing now).

Take a Mental Break to Avoid a Mental Breakdown

Allow yourself to take mini-breaks during the day. Do breathing exercises or meditate for a few minutes. If you can go for a walk around the block, do it! Let your mind wander and rest for a few minutes. This advice is useful even under normal circumstances.

Control the Controllable

Yes, it’s almost inevitable to think about the uncertain, but force yourself to stay focused only on what’s under your control. This can be achieved by setting up a schedule so you feel there’s a bit of structure amongst this chaos.

Stay Positive

Negative emotions can drag you down a rabbit hole. Be very aware of your feelings and emotions, and err on the side of hope and optimism. This is hard to do on your own, so maybe do like some of the Captura Group team is doing and enroll in Yale’s “The Science of Well Being” course. Anything that works for you.

Stay Connected

Social distancing is tough! I miss handshakes, hugging people, chatting with strangers, going to the office. It makes going through these uncertain times even more difficult. So call your co-workers, have video calls, over-communicate! At Captura Group we created a group chat ONLY to greet each other throughout the day. A simple ‘buenos días’ can make somebody else’s day better.

These are just some strategies we are using. They will evolve for sure as times are changing. If you have strategies to share we invite you to do so.

What About Brands?

Captura Group is a digital-first full service agency obsessed with helping brands succeed in a multicultural world. A lot of our collective energy recently has been devoted to taking care of the team while taking care of the brands that have trusted us as their agency.

As with our personal lives, we’re learning something new every day. We’re checking what other agencies and advertisers are doing and learning from them.

We can’t offer cookie-cutter solutions for the current circumstances. What we have done is establish some fundamental questions to interrogate our current strategies. All of our teams are analyzing each of their brands using these questions before landing on a recommendation.

What’s the Role of the Brand in the Current Environment?

Some brands have a very clear role given the current context. If you’re a cleaning brand (Clorox, Lysol), a soap or a hand sanitizer brand, it’s clear that you play a key role. However, this doesn’t mean that you should take advantage of this situation to sell more (Clorox did the right thing by turning off their ads on Amazon. AdAge), it just means that consumers are probably going to look for you regardless of whether you advertise or not. These brands will be evaluated for what they say and what they do (Lysol Makes $2 Million Matching Contribution to CDC Foundation’s Coronavirus Crowdfunding Campaign to Encourage More Donations).

Other brands play a less direct role. Since people are staying at home more, there’s a greater demand for remote connectivity. If you’re a video/web conference platform, a video streaming service or food delivery service, you can play a big part in making these dire times more bearable.

The role of your brand can be even more indirect. Maybe you’re a CPG food brand that is mostly consumed at home? People are going to need you, as they’ll go out less often. You might need to shift your messaging slightly or put more weight on your e-commerce efforts.

And sometimes, your brand experience can be counterintuitive to our current environment. If you’re a restaurant or bar, or an alcoholic beverage that promotes a socially active lifestyle, you definitely need to pivot your message and your behavior (restaurants and bars focusing on delivery, distilleries making hand sanitizers).

Is my Current Message Relevant, Irrelevant or Harmful?

Regardless of the role your brand plays in the current environment, agencies and advertisers should look at their current campaigns with a highly critical lens, and be brave enough to take action if needed. People are extremely sensitive, and for a  reason, so if you believe your current message is going to receive a backlash, don’t be afraid to pull it out (Finger-Lickin’ Good anyone?).

If your current message is based on recipes for home cooking, sharing at home, or simply staying at home, you should probably continue to support those efforts. Being forced to stay at home, consumers will highly appreciate anything that makes these times feel a bit more normal.

A New Brief

Creating a campaign specific to the current times should start by honestly answering these questions: will it do good for society/the community? Will it be helpful for the target audience? Is it aligned with what the brand stands for?

These questions are always relevant. But given the current circumstances, they are now critical.

A good example of how a brand can achieve this comes to us from Nike, who created a social campaign promoting social distancing (usatoday.com). But all the solutions don’t have to be short-lived. Ideally, the solution you come up with today will still be relevant after we go back to more normal circumstances.

A Hispanic Lens

With a young and growing population of 60 million and a purchasing power estimated at $1.5 trillion US Hispanics will play a key role as the economy rebounds. While the coronavirus impact will affect everyone one way or another, regardless of race or ethnicity, we want to offer some perspective from a US Hispanic lens.

Hispanic households are already outspending the average US household on buying food to eat at home. Hispanics are also bigger on stocking up, averaging 3.1 stocking trips vs 2.7 for the general population. If you represent a CPG food brand you need to be aware of these behaviors and make sure you stay connected to these consumers in times in which we’re all forced to stay in.

Staying home also means that our shopping behavior needs to adapt: from physically visiting the retailers to shopping online. This is something Hispanics were already doing: 54% of Hispanic shoppers have access to online grocery shopping solutions and 65% of those have ordered grocery items online in the past year. We also know that US Hispanics over-index on social media as a source for product information.

But most importantly, Hispanic are Big on Brand Relationships. We see our favorite brands beyond the functional purpose – they are highly trusted and personal to our everyday lives.

Final Words

In a recent note from Steve Mandala, President of Advertising Sales & Marketing at Univision, he references several studies that prove that companies that continue to advertise during an economic downturn end up in better shape than their competitors after the downturn is over.

While we don’t want to be prescriptive about how your company should face this current crisis, we do want to offer just some final thoughts to all agencies and marketers during these seemingly chaotic times: talk to each other and do it frequently, be human, be sensitive, be flexible, be ready to pivot and most of all be generous.

Feel free to reach out if you need to talk. Hopefully, it’s about how to help your brand come out of this crisis more relevant than ever.

Stay safe.

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