Advertising globally is set to suffer a decline in revenue as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A shrinking pie means that brands will need to offer consumers a clear value proposition. Despite the constrained environment they need to continue to invest in advertising and marketing. Past experience has shown that those businesses which continue to advertise and keep their brand alive during a crisis tend to reap rewards in the long term. What is critical, however, is to be clear about what makes your brand unique and to ensure that your advertising is authentic.

These were the overarching take-outs of a recent digital conversation with the AdFocus 2019 Awards Partnership of the Year winners, M&C Saatchi Abel and Nando’s, moderated by the 2019 AdFocus Awards chair Phumi Mashigo.

How important is the client-agency relationship during this period? All the basics of strong relationships and understanding the value that each partner brings is even more important at a time like this, said Faheem Chaudhry, MD of M&C Saatchi Abel Joburg.

The fundamental aspect of making a client-agency partnership work – particularly in trying times – is a deep understanding of each other’s business and how it operates so that you can come up with a mutually beneficial way of working, said Darren Hampton, head of digital marketing for IMEA at Nando’s. Second, he said empathy and understanding what people are going through is vital.

The restaurant industry, he added, has been hard hit by the lockdown. Many restaurants have decided not to re-open even after lockdown restrictions have been eased. Delivery is a very small percentage of Nando’s business and is the most expensive way of delivering food. As delivery is less financially profitable for Nando’s, the brand has decided to open only a handful of restaurants to provide a feeding scheme to vulnerable communities. Meanwhile, the brand has been working on growing its online app, given the likely growth of food delivery.

Current behaviour provides a media opportunity. Creativity has been a great coping mechanism and outlet for people in this environment. Nando’s has built its brand reputation on creativity. In order to survive brands need to focus on pivoting their offerings, bearing in mind people’s new realities. It’s about remaining relevant at a time when pockets and purses are tighter. However, at the same time, long-term thinking is still required and an investment in marketing continues to be important, said Hampton.

During periods of uncertainty, looking after your people becomes even more critical, said Chaudhry, adding that M&C Saatchi Abel has prioritised its people during this crisis. Clients’ needs haven’t changed and the agency needs to ensure it has the talent to deliver on these needs. They still need strong, creative, strategic thinking and diversity of thought. To be sustainable, agencies need to have a clear idea of their purpose. They need to be contributing to culture and creating collateral and using technology and new skills to duel creativity rather than to fuel it.

Brands need to understand where the SA psyche is now situated in order to appropriately respond and understand where to focus their energies. They need to prioritise authenticity rather than a quick win – but in a way that is true to their brand purpose and makes sense for their business. There is a new level of consciousness among consumers about why they support the brands they do, argued Hampton.

The big take-out:

Those businesses that continue to advertise and keep their brand alive during a crisis tend to reap rewards in the long term.

What will the new normal be for communications businesses after Covid-19? While it may be tempting to play into a futurist game, we need to be cautious. There is likely to be a short period of release – particularly as bottle stores open up again, then a period of renewal, followed by a reset period where we will see new behaviours, said Chaudhry, adding that he hopes this includes a focus on supporting local brands and local tourism.

The challenge for management consultancies is that they are not yet getting creativity right.  Consultancies will win the customer experience game but agencies will always win at creativity, predicted Chaudhry, adding that advertising agencies continue to punch above their weight in the African context.

Entries for the 2020 Financial Mail AdFocus Awards open on June 30. For further information contact Danette Breitenbach (adfocus100@gmail.com). For advertising and sponsorship opportunities in the 2020 Financial Mail AdFocus publication please contact Cortney Hoyland (HoylandC@arena.africa) or Kay Naidoo (NaidooKA@arena.africa).

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