#StayHome but Buy This and That: When a Pandemic is Used as a Marketing ‘Trend’

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#StayHome but Buy This and That: When a Pandemic is Used as a Marketing ‘Trend’

Advertising saw a major online shift during the pandemic. Image courtesy of Pexels.

Advertising can be a vicious world, grabbing at almost anything to use as a means to an end, which is usually selling a certain product or service. Oftentimes, this means using local or global ‘trends’ to steer audiences in the desired direction. 

This isn’t necessarily the issue, however, it is how it is done that is an issue. Advertising is also an intricate world, full of details and psychology-driven decisions that most people – or rather consumers – are unaware of. It takes a certain kind of person to know how to advertise or market a product or service, intelligently or tastefully. 

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, and as people worldwide were bracing themselves for the unknown, taking the necessary precaution of staying indoors, limiting social contact, etc… businesses big and small were trying to simultaneously find ways to stay afloat amidst this new economic chaos. 

Different businesses were affected by the pandemic in different ways; some somewhat larger corporations were not drastically affected, very few businesses may have even profited (think pharmaceutical and tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Apple) and many smaller businesses were the ones to take the biggest blow. 

In fact, according to an article on the Financial Times, “pharmaceutical groups boosted by their hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine; technology giants buoyed by the trend for working from home; and retailers are offering lockdown necessities online.”

But what of the fate of advertising companies? The ones who leverage off of what these giant tech companies have to offer? Well, the pandemic did in fact take a toll on advertising, in addition to forcing advertising agencies to shift focus from various mediums to one main medium – digital. 

According to an article on the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has led to a dramatic drop in advertising spending. “First quarter data from Publicis showed that year-on-year revenue in China was down 15 percent. Countries in Europe saw an average reduction of 9 percent; Germany and France fell 7 percent and 12 percent respectively,” states the article; and this is following a steady yearly increase over the past decade. 

Empty billboards in Cairo, Egypt during the first few months of the pandemic. Image sourced from Egypt Independent.

Advertisers worldwide were forced to re-think any pre-planned campaigns and figure out ways to adjust according to the situation at hand. With most people staying home during the first few months of the pandemic, it seemed obvious to advertisers to shift their focus towards places where their ads will surely be seen. This meant a significant drop in outdoor advertising (billboards and print), and a drastic rise in social media advertising (thus feeding into tech companies’ profits). 

Even in Egypt, during the first few months of the pandemic, there seemed to be a massive shift to online advertising for most advertisers in the country. Most outdoor billboards and the like were left for governmental campaigns, overrun with #خليك-في-البيت (stay home) messages, as well as plastered phrases encouraging people to wear their masks and to protect themselves and their country (احمي نفسك واحمي بلدك).

This was also obviously noticeable in the fact alone that for what seemed to be the first time in the history of advertising in Egypt, Cairo’s sea of billboards were – for a while – empty of any advertisements. According to an article on Ahram Online, general supervisor for advertising at Al-Ahram Hisham Lotfi said, out of his 25 years of advertising experience in the country, “these are the worst times the advertising market in Egypt has ever seen.”

A governmental ‘Keep Yourself and Your Country Safe’ ad in Cairo. Image sourced from Youm7.

All this being said, amidst the shift and changes, there is the moral question of the COVID-19 pandemic being used as a mere marketing tool or ‘trend’ with some advertisers. While it makes absolute sense for advertisers to adjust according to what’s happening in the world. As mentioned previously, there is a fine line between doing so intelligently and tastefully or merely looking at it as a ‘trend’ to follow.

An example of a somewhat intelligent and tasteful campaign that took place during the first few months of the pandemic for example, was a series of Netflix billboard ads in which they reveal spoilers for some of people’s most beloved shows. They supported this campaign with warnings across social media that if people went outside, their favorite shows would be spoilt for them, thus encouraging people to stay home instead. 

An example of Netflix’s praised ‘Spoiler Billboards’ campaign.

The #StayHome hashtag was widely circulated across social media at the beginning of the pandemic, in attempts to encourage people to stay at home to protect themselves and their loved ones. While the hashtag was meant to act as a reminder of the importance and magnitude of the situation at hand, it was also sometimes used by advertisers as a way to promote a certain product or service. 

Although it is necessary for advertisers to react to whatever is happening in the world and ultimately just sell their client’s product or service, does it make it okay for some people to say “#StayHome and buy so and so product online, from the comfort of your couch” for example? Does it make it okay for some people to market their product using falsified claims such as, ‘guaranteed to disinfect’ in attempts to just grab people’s attention? At the end of the day, they are just doing their job right?

However, when one comes to ask questions such as these, it is best to once again go back to the point of it being implemented intelligently and tastefully. Do your job, but stay aware of each and every aspect of what is happening around the world. Do your job, but stay aware of the implications that may occur. Do your job, but be mindful. 

*The opinions and ideas expressed in this article do not reflect the views of Egyptian Streets’ editorial team any other institution with which they are affiliated. To submit an opinion article, please email [email protected].

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