The Lockdown is Making Broadcasters More Flexible, Consultative and Creative


COVID TVBroadcasters’ struggles during the lockdown have been well documented, as advertisers have postponed and paused their ad campaigns. Last week’s ‘COVID-19 Response Tracker‘ report from the World Federation of Advertisers forecast a 31 percent drop in TV investment for the year.

But for brands still willing to advertise, there is undoubtedly a huge opportunity on TV. Jason Spencer, business development director at ITV, told VAN that TV advertising at the moment is as cheap as it’s ever been, while at the same time audiences are growing. “It’s incredible value for money,” he said. “So you would think that would create an environment where you would have lots of advertisers coming in to seize the opportunity.”

In order to tempt advertisers on to TV, broadcasters are coming up with a number of innovative initiatives designed to meet brands’ needs, and breaking down some of the traditional barriers to TV advertising.

Bringing Down Barriers and Reducing Costs

In some cases, brands are keen to run TV ads and have the funds to do so, but face lockdown-specific blocks to getting their campaigns off the ground.

As VAN has previously documented, the lockdown has put the breaks on TV and video ad production. And at the same time, brands have had to adapt and update their campaigns to avoid coming across as insensitive during the crisis.

In response, a number of broadcasters have been bundling creative services with media buys, helping advertisers use archive and stock footage, or create brand new copy, for their TV ads.

4Sales, Channel 4’s sales house, has begun offering free ad creation services from the broadcaster’s in-house creative agency 4Creative. “We recognise that the current limited availability of production services could still be a barrier,” said Matthew Salmon, sales director at Channel 4. “We want to remove that barrier by offering this unique, free-of-charge service during this unique time.”

ITV has taken a similar tactic, using its team of in-house creative producers to help advertisers adapt existing campaigns or create new ones for use across its portfolio.

NBCUniversal meanwhile has sought to make life easier for brick-and-mortar retailers who are rapidly adapting to e-commerce and delivery models, since their physical stores have been shut down. The broadcaster last month launched “NBCUniversal Checkout”, which offers shoppable inventory across NBCU’s TV and digital portfolio. The idea is to try to make it easier for retailers to promptly set up and promote e-commerce stores.

Josh Feldman, EVP and head of marketing and advertising creative at  NBCU, said the new offering has been met with an “overwhelming” response, with a mix of established retailers and newer direct-to-consumer brands using the new tool.

A lot of the time though, the barriers for advertisers are primarily financial. Even brands which are so far weathering the pandemic fairly well are wary of committing too much spend to ad campaigns, given the economic uncertainty ahead.

NBCUniversal Checkout has been tailored to help cut costs. Feldman says the company is waiving the technology and cart fees it would usually charge until the end of the year.

And ITV’s Spencer said a lot of his efforts have centred on helping brands de-risk. As one example, the broadcaster has temporarily scrapped the late booking fees it would usually charge for linear campaigns, allowing brands to book ads week-to-week with relatively short notice.

Changing Sales Tactics

But while broadcasters are finding some success in bringing new initiatives to market, those VAN spoke with said they’ve found it more important than ever to be talking with individual brands and advertisers to understand their needs, and to come up with specific solutions that work for them.

This starts with understanding which brands’ is sensible to approach right now. ITV’s Spencer said the broadcaster has been modelling different brand categories’ ability to bounce back from the downturn. ITV is using this modelling to understand when it will be appropriate for specific brands to start spending on advertising again.

“It’s too simplistic to say to every brand, ‘Keep up your ad spend during the downturn, maintain your share of voice and you’ll improve your share of market’,” he said. “For different categories, there’ll be different times to come back on to TV with different types of messages.”

But for those categories which are still well suited to TV, Spencer emphasised that it’s still important to not see categories as homogenous. “It’s easy to make assumptions and group everyone in a certain category together, whereas each business has their own set of challenges,” he said. Different sales tactics are needed for different brands, even within the same category.

NBCU’s Feldman said his company is taking a similar approach. While NBCU isn’t ruling out any specific categories and is still trying to engage with its traditional partners, he said it’s become even more important to tailor strategies to specific brands and agencies.

“Some partners are going to want to buy based on content, others want to lean into specific activations, like Stay-In Theater [a ‘movie night’ with fewer ad breaks] or philanthropic opportunities like the Parks and Recreation reunion special that raised money for Feeding America, and we’re here to help them do exactly that,” said Feldman.

Taking this tailored approach can pay dividends, in some cases drawing in advertisers which might seem unlikely candidates for TV campaigns during the lockdown.

ITV’s Spencer gave the example of Beaverbrooks, a jewellery company that has seen all of its physical locations shut down by the pandemic. Beaverbrooks didn’t have anything specific they wanted to say around their brand, but wanted to maintain share of voice during the lockdown. ITV worked with Beaverbrooks to create a campaign which runs every Thursday, inviting audiences to submit their own content sharing positive stories from the lockdown.

Will Barriers Stay Down?

In some cases, the tactics and initiatives being used by broadcasters will only last as long as the lockdown. “A lot of those are things we’ve been doing, we probably wouldn’t be doing in normal times,” said Spencer. “But we will review them all and let’s hope that some of the good initiatives we have done to tailor offerings can continue on the other side.” Scrapped fees for example will return when brands are more able to afford them. And broadcasters won’t have to commit so much time and effort to tailored offerings for individual brands once ad spend starts to recover.

But in other cases, the pandemic is accelerating offerings which will remain post-lockdown. NBCU’s Feldman for example said that the broadcaster’s One Platform strategy, which unites all of NBCU’s inventory through one buying platform, has been accelerated by the pandemic in order to “to help our partners manage their budgets and make their investments go further”.

Barriers to TV advertising are being broken down by the crisis, and it’s likely some of these barriers will stay down once the recovery begins.

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