Amid the coronavirus pandemic brands are faced with a challenge: stay active or go dark.
That challenge is what Momentum Worldwide President and Chief Marketing Officer Kevin McNulty and the entire agency are working on right now with its clients, which include American Express, Verizon, and Microsoft.
With sports – a significant marketing platform for many major brands – screeching to a halt for an indefinite amount of time, brands are scrambling to make sense of the situation and how to harness any opportunity that might be presented out of the situation.
FOS caught up with McNulty to gather his thoughts on how brands should operate in this unknown.
The sports world was flipped upside down on March 11 when the NBA announced its postponement, quickly followed by the rest of the U.S. sports leagues. One of the most significant cultural moments in sports, the NCAA Tournament, was outright canceled – a significant blow to many brands who stake a substantial investment in advertising around the event.
The postponements are likely to go on for months, which leaves a lot of questions about how to proceed.
McNulty: We’re seeing a difference between the tiers of clients. Large marketers seize the day and stay active; other brands are viewing this as too much uncertainty. We’re counseling clients to have a 30-60-90 day plan that gets us through August and think about how do we re-market and restart our efforts?
In Q3 and Q4, there’s a massive opportunity to reintroduce themselves and how do you use this time to separate. The 30-60-90 day plan, that’s productive for both clients and the agency to focus on doing the work now. How do we get all of us focused on the job at hand, making sure a brand will survive?
This will end. There is an end, so how do we make sure we’re prepared for it?
If brands are going dark at the moment, it’s likely not because they want to.
McNulty: You’re seeing a lot of brands use social media as a means to stay active. We saw a lot shut down. It’s the uncertainty of media buys being pulled focused on March Madness or MLB, so they have no choice to repurpose that today or save that for when things come back. It may not be going dark out of fear but pushing the calendar.
Look at the back third of the year; all these postponed events are going to be on top of each other. As a fan, that’s exciting. But as an event, they like their spot on the calendar, and now they have to share that.
With most people stuck at home and practicing social distancing and a major unknown economic factor, brands need to strike the right tone. A pandemic is a serious matter, and making light of the situation or trying to sell likely isn’t the right path forward.
Instead, with the sports community on paused, there’s an opportunity at hand.
McNulty: One of the things we see is the impact on the fans with the loss of community. Whether it’s March Madness, Champions League, or Major League Baseball, there are separate communities for each one. The loss of sense of community, that’s the hardest part of this. Is there a way for brands to solve that?
That’s one thing we’re spending a lot of time on right now, figuring out that right tone and manner. You don’t want to be opportunistic but deliver community. If you can do that, you can be poised to come out of it on the backend with a solid footing in a way to communicate to consumers.
It’s not about selling right now. If you’re an airline or selling a new car, what’s the message right now? People aren’t buying those right now. Does that mean to go dark or maintain a relationship with your customers?
With so many questions without concrete answers, there’s a need for creativity and optimism. Whether that’s flipping physical campaigns to digital campaigns or moving from selling to communicating community and hope, it’s forcing different thinking.
McNulty: It’s been energizing to think very differently. From a creative standpoint, we’re very energized. All of us creative people in marketing and advertising, we’re eternally optimistic. We need to stay positive and find a solution for our clients. It’s going to be a very revealing moment to see what brands have done during this time.
If I want to look back and be proud after this, that would not include going dark, but it also would not be a typical sales pitch.
Perhaps most challenging in the whole situation is that it’s never been encountered before. Once society emerges from this event, there will likely be new normals that aren’t yet known. So much is changing quickly; it’s hard for anyone to have the answer.
McNulty: There’s no playbook; there’s no “Activation for Dummies In Times of Pandemics.” We’re writing it as we go. If I were an individual, I’d be less optimistic, but when you’re part of a great agency, you can rally around each other and realize you have world-class brands.
It’s totally uncharted territory, but if you’re the smartest and most creative, you have a chance of getting it right.
This is a time startups succeed. They’re the ones that identify a way to market because they aren’t held down by standard operating procedures. People talk about agility all the time, but now it’s real – how do you think like that?
Things have changed and aren’t going back to how they were, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing – our workforces’ ability to work from home. With tech, you normally have slow adoption, but not now, you’re forced. How to think like that with traditional brands? That’s the energy we have to bring, to think differently.
If you look at the arc of the pandemic, China is pretty much back to work. They started in December, and it’s March now. So move forward three to four months is that when we’re back up and running? What’s that look like? If I sat on my hands for four months, I really lost a chance to create a new normal. In that regard, it’s sort of exciting. This is when brands and agencies have to step up to use the time now to figure out what the new normal is.