The Covid-19 related lockdown caused an unprecedented shock to the advertising market in the UK (as elsewhere) and senior television executives spoke last week about what they have been doing to mitigate the crisis. There are some green shoots of recovery – and even some positives to find in the midst of what became a global, sector-specific, macro-economic cardiac arrest.

“Since the initial shock, people have started re-engaging,” said Lara Izlan, Director, Advertising Data & Analytics, at ITV, this week, on a Videonet webcast. ITV has had to be more flexible with deadlines and penalties, and has been offering campaign turnarounds at speeds you would not normally expect from TV, she said, referring to brands who are still advertising but sometimes looking for new messaging.

There has been a focus on innovation – thus the introduction last week of 3-5 second advertisements on ITV Hub, which can be created by ITV’s creative production team. “That is a way for advertisers to jump on the opportunity of being on TV with engaged audiences without committing to the same levels of cost and production they would otherwise have,” Izlan explained.

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Photo: iStock/franckreporter

ITV confirms on its website that these ITV Hub Shout Outs ‘allow brands to share information with consumers quickly and cost-effectively during this unique time. With fully branded commercials not always the most appropriate option, the aim is to help advertisers utilise the platform to share important information as well as messages of support and gratitude to the public and key workers.’

ITV has been working for some time to become more of a strategic business partner to customers, offering solutions and insights that go beyond media supply, and this process has been accelerated during the coronavirus crisis. “We can tap into what we know about audiences, and creative production, to support our customers who want to engage creatively with those audiences,” she told the Videonet webcast, called, ‘Safeguarding and growing OTT and CTV advertising revenues in the wake of Covid-19’.

Creative support can also include the use of talent. Helping brands to engage talent, while the stars themselves are locked down at home, is part of the proactive work at ITV and also at Channel 4 and Discovery, both of whom were represented on the webcast panel.

At ITV, the partnership approach has included a series of webinars where it shared its audience and data insights on how consumer behaviour is changing. “We are looking for ways to be creative and supportive, and it has really helped. We want to help them emerge from the crisis with their brands intact and hopefully stronger than ever.”

Jonathan Lewis, Head of Digital and Partnership Innovation at Channel 4 described how the shock phase lasted for two weeks before settling into what he described as the ‘new normal’. “It is hard to predict what happens long-term, but there are signs we can be hopeful. We are cautious, obviously, but we are definitely seeing advertisers starting to come back, particularly supermarket brands, technology brands and digital players.

“They are starting to spend – that has happened in the last week-and-a-half [he was speaking on April 22]. We are seeing more positivity. We are responding to briefs, and brands are starting to respond to some of the stimulus and the ideas we are putting into the market.”

Like at ITV, Channel 4 has had to become more flexible and creative to stimulate the market, which includes making it easier to book and buy across both linear and digital at a time when audiences are exploding across both and there is a longer tail of viewers going into the on-demand programme archives.

At Channel 4, there are in-house creative solutions with quick turnaround for advertisers that need it. Shows are being created specifically for an advertiser that wants to fund them, via the ‘Lockdown Academy’. The broadcaster has also overseen the creation of bespoke advertisements where a whole collection of brands come together under the same banner. The most notable example is the ‘Clap for carers’ campaign where 38 brands appear, showing their appreciation for NHS (National Health Service) staff. That campaign was turned around in under three days.

Roku, the streaming platform and media owner/sales house (which also makes connected TV devices) has also had to be agile. In the U.S., the company has been helping brands repurpose ad creative that was made for social platforms so it can be used on television (its first foray into creative ‘production). This is a response to the arrival of new brands who are coming to TV for the first time.

“These are brands that had not thought about TV, but the change in the short-term economics means they can use TV,” explained Mike Shaw, Director of Advertising Sales, Roku, during the one-hour discussion (which you can listen to in full, here). He is referring to the fact that TV has just become more affordable for those who are still in-market.

Roku has also found that corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets are being directed into advertising as CSR becomes more relevant and the messaging resonates strongly with consumers. “We have been working with advertisers to get some of those projects live,” Shaw revealed.

“Right now, there is a clear need in a lot of marketers’ minds to align their brands with their purpose. We are seeing a far larger proportion of CSR-minded campaigns out there versus the pure-play branding activity you would expect to see on the big screen.”

With part of the webcast discussion focused on mitigation strategies, Shaw noted that Roku is helping to turn campaigns around in days rather than what would typically be weeks and months – again meeting the need for advertisers to adapt their messages quickly.

“Existing brands are updating messaging regarding how they can help their customers during these changed times. That could be a supermarket taking some of their traditional creative and adding information about opening times or preferential access for key workers.”

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