Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

A new pandemic-led trend in global advertising, where established brands assist or even share media platform space with emerging brands, has been adopted by insurance group Hollard.

For the next six months the company is sharing its gantry and billboard advertising spaces with 12 small and medium-sized enterprises. Chief marketing officer Heidi Brauer tells the FM the idea was born during a conversation with her ad agency, VMLY&R SA, about how Covid-19 is affecting small business. The motivation dovetailed with the company’s bigger brand purpose of "creating better futures and to be a catalyst for positive and enduring change".

The small businesses were chosen from an initial pool of 292 proposed by Hollard employees.

Criteria included whether they would benefit from the campaign and could handle a potential rapid increase in business; they also had to be spread across the country.

The current climate forces brands to radically rethink their tonal approach and demonstrate empathy and a real understanding of the struggles their customers are facing. Research from Kantar indicates that consumers prefer brands that talk about what they are doing to help society and provide comfort and reassurance to communities. But it’s also about how that is done: three-quarters of respondents say companies should not exploit the health crisis to promote their brand. So, what is Hollard hoping to achieve?

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

"Our primary goal is to gain exposure for these small businesses, and to help them generate more sales," says Brauer. "They will also be getting nationwide exposure, which can be hugely beneficial in the long run, allowing them to be top of mind for potential customers." But there is also a secondary goal of creating "a collective knock-on effect of better futures — that supporting these small businesses across SA will create better opportunities for communities and, ultimately, the SA economy".

Fran Luckin, chief creative officer at Grey Africa, tells the FM that brands have had to rethink their tone during the pandemic and become gentler. "We’ve always thought empathy to be a crucial factor in devising communication for brands that resonates with the target audience. Insight and understanding are key to great brand communication. The insights we work off right now have been influenced by Covid. But having said that, I don’t think it means we have to abandon the use of humour and comedy in our work."

Luckin urges brand stewards to think more sensitively and responsibly. "Our client Distell ceased all communication during the alcohol bans except for responsible drinking messaging, Covid safety messaging and some communication around its nonalcoholic brands."

Brauer agrees that brands must think differently. "We’ve learnt there is only one way to get through this pandemic, and that is by supporting each other. We believe this also applies to advertising and marketing — we need to support the small enterprises at the heart of the economy that are hardest hit by the effects of the virus and the lockdown."

She says it’s also important to understand the power and importance of "creating a ripple effect, to really increase the scale of opportunities arising for individuals, families, communities and, ultimately, the country".

That means brands must be happy with playing what might be just a small part in creating a movement for positive change. "Since the start of the pandemic, there has been much talk about the new normal; we would love it if the new normal incorporated big businesses sharing their ad space with small businesses for the benefit of all."

Each selected business will benefit from about R1m in advertising spend, not counting agency fees and the cost of creative material.

Among the businesses that have been chosen for the collaboration are a spaza shop called African Accent, a small coffee company called Ground One Coffee, a restaurant called Moja Chicken and a local wine brand called Koni Wines.

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