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Marketing Shifts in Light of Coronavirus
The day-to-day swirl and possible reactions to the changes surrounding COVID-19 give all of us in marketing more than enough to do. The bigger concern is in doing it right, whatever “it” might be.

Some of our team leaders across the Media, Message, and Measurement spaces share their perspective below on how to navigate the storm.


There are some notable truths from the early reactions to COVID-19:

  • People are spending more time with most media, particularly screen-based media (e.g. TV, social, digital usage up + double digits).
  • Yet new programming, particularly for the big-screen, has largely been put on hold (e.g. sporting events cancelled, TV’s “upfront” season postponed with lack of new content, reality shows halting production).
  • Some categories are pulling out of advertising in the short-term (e.g. travel, tourism, hospitality, airlines).
  • Yet others are looking to invest (e.g. grocery, delivery services, pharmacies, quick-service restaurants, cleaning products).

Overall, there is an odd equilibrium emerging as some business and media properties understandingly ebb and flow based on their individual situations. One of the most important things to keep in mind in Media right now is what the horizon looks like. Just ahead of this storm, we will see an unprecedented surge in advertising investment. The juggernaut of political ad spending will lead that surge, but it is also very likely that many advertisers pulling back on spending right now will be looking to get their lost business back at around the same time politics are full throttle. That will create a strong ad selling marketplace, making it rough on advertisers to get the media space they need to drive their business.

In light of the above, Empower teams recommend:

  • Invest now (in the right channels). Eyeballs are there. Pricing is fair, and there might even be an opportunity to find deals. Advertising builds share of mind over time, which also decays slowly over time. There is a high likelihood that you will need a large stock of share-of-mind going into the back half of 2020, where it will be very difficult and much more expensive to find the eyeballs you need to build that share.
  • Focus investment in channels that make the most sense in our current reality: TV, social, search, digital, and streaming audio and video.
  • Shift to a more deal-only investment strategy in radio and out-of-home media, while looking to cancel or get much more favorable pricing for contracts in the short-term.
  • Feed the algorithms. It is important to know that stopping an algorithmic spend (think social, search, programmatic media) will likely harm your overall advertising effort. AI is brilliant, but isn’t often given a “memory,” which means that shutting things down is starting over. Starting over is bad for performance metrics. If you must, then reduce spend, but avoid turning it off.

While Empower recommends investing now, there are still considerations to be made to the message that runs in advertising and broader marketing efforts in the short term.


This is far from business as usual, so messaging should not be business as usual. There are some key territories to consider leaning into as well as some general Dos and Don’ts to consider for your message.

Message Territories to Explore:

  • Brand. This is a time to focus more on a brand message than a heavily promotional or product-focused message. Brand messaging also has longer-term impact on share-of-mind, which will help in the advertising surge ahead of the storm.
  • Transition. Many people are facing new transitions right now. Children moving home or staying home all day. Working from home. Going out much less often. Redefining “staycations.” Explore the role and reality your brand plays in peoples’ transitioning lives.
  • Local. People’s worldview gets much smaller in times of crisis. There is also comfort in knowing what is happening in one’s community or with one’s neighbors. Explore localized messaging that highlights communities and neighborhoods, or even pulls in employees that live or work nearby.
  • Giving Back. Where it is natural for a brand, now is a great time to think about ways to give back to the communities you serve. This has to be natural or part of an ongoing effort in order to be authentic, but getting this message right can lift up both your brand and the people you serve.

With Media & Message running together appropriately, there are also important implications to Measurement.


In the current and rapidly changing environment it’s more difficult to know how to market in a way that will protect your brand’s current and long-term health. Marketers are faced with both supply chain limitations and changing consumer dynamics that lend to unprecedented disruption in a highly dynamic but generally predictable and certainly ‘measured’ space. For each brand the impact of this event will be different. Some brands will see enormous short-term spikes in sales. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and canned goods are experiencing never seen before short term sales growth. Other brands will struggle under travel restrictions and temporary closures. What remains constant is a desire to understand how to redirect today in order to protect tomorrow. We are all in search of the data that will help us make the right decisions, which rely on Measurement.

These are the most salient points to keep in mind around Measurement right now:

  • Keep measuring: There is a lot of research and measurement that remains important and will continue to be relevant for your brand. As an example, if you have a primary research study in place to measure the impact of sales or foot traffic, you may not get the best metrics in the 1st half of 2020 but there are many other valuable metrics such as awareness and brand sentiment that will be important and can help guide near term and longer term planning.
    • For A/B testing or ‘lift’ type measurement, keep in mind that both the control and exposed are matched on demographics and/or category behavior. As such, both groups will have similar representation of consumers who have changed buying patterns or brand sentiment as a result of our current environment. This will limit any bias in the measurement. These types of measurements become much more important now as they are real time indicators of consumer actions and sentiment and can offer insight to guide decisions around marketing execution.
    • Where marketers will need to pull back is against measurement requiring in-person participation. Focus groups and on-site analysis will be limited and should be minimized in lieu of virtual communities, bulletin boards and mobile/virtual ethnographies.
  • Keep a long-term vision: Short term volatility is high and unlikely to help provide sustainable direction. As such, be conservative in extreme measures but adjust as necessary to protect annual spend and brand equity. Measurement tools such as marketing mix should be used for forecasting and scenario planning. Existing mix outputs can be used as long as the planning framework is accounting for disruption variables.
    • For planned marketing mix work that will include 2020 sales data, ensure the model platform incorporates data to measure the impact of coronavirus. Metrics such as % positive tests, which can be obtained from the CDC and includes regional and weekly variation will improve model stability and better read the changes to marketing that are driven by the marketing execution. This also holds true for store closures or gaps in distribution. Be sure ongoing measurement includes a holistic view of the environmental challenges we are facing now.
    • Measurement tools should continue to anchor short- and long-term marketing decisions. As marketers, we have learned to be flexible and nimble in a dynamic media environment.

Keep a pulse on your brand by ensuring you have appropriate messaging, in the right media and the measurement savvy to support brand changes. As our POV and guidance change on Media, Message, and Measurement, our Empower teams will commit to sharing those with you to help inform your own POV and actions in this uncertain time.