Can You Even Advertise Right Now? (Spoiler- Yup!)

can you advertise after covid? YBKBS magazine for small businesses
By Jess Dixon

So the world is pretty much on fire right now, isn’t it? 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work in (yes, I’m going to use this damn word) unprecedented ways. Normal life as we knew it has been paused or turned upside down. And many business owners are deeply concerned about the future of their business, while also worrying about the ethics and the optics of continuing to advertise. 

But isn’t advertising at all right now really tacky? Isn’t that disaster capitalism? 

The concept of “disaster capitalism” was coined by author and activist Naomi Klein in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine. Klein argues that governments and big businesses deliberately use times of crisis to achieve their own ends, whether that’s artificially hiking prices on essential items to inflate profits (£50 hand sanitiser, anyone!?) or pushing through unpopular policies while the population is distracted. 

It does not mean, and was never intended to mean, people continuing to make a living during times of disaster and crisis. You still need to pay your rent, put food on the table, and look after your family. 

So no. Promoting your business right now isn’t tacky and you have my full and free permission to stop feeling guilty about it. 

With that said, there are right and wrong ways to go about advertising during times like those we’re in now. Read on for some tips to help you survive, and even thrive, by marketing successfully in the COVID era. 

Focus on value…

This is a core marketing concept that should be followed at all times, but it’s never more important than right now. Any promotion you do should be focused on the value your product or service can give to the consumer. 

In other words, it’s not about you. It’s not even about how amazing your product is. Instead, you should be thinking about what problems your ideal customer is likely to be facing, and how you can solve that problem for them. Be mindful that the main “problems” faced by your core audience might have changed in recent months, and adapt your messaging accordingly. 

…and on your values 

What’s important to you and what are the values of your business? It’s time to revisit those values and ensure they’re front and centre in any promotional activity you do. 

Why did you start the specific business you did? What’s important to you, and what motivates you? Do you want to help people achieve their full potential, offer bold and innovative new products, be good citizens of your local community? Try to list 3 – 5 core business values and ensure you’re reflecting them in every marketing communication you put out. 

Show you recognise the seriousness of the situation

Making jokes about serious things has its place, but tread carefully. If in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution. That doesn’t mean that your content needs to be all doom and gloom. In fact, it shouldn’t be. But there’s a difference between being uplifting and making light of a crisis. One offers hope and positivity during a difficult time, while the other can make your intended audience feel alienated and misunderstood.  

To give you one easy example, let’s imagine you’re a fitness trainer who is selling home workout programmes. Consider these two potential slogans:

“All this new-found free time means no more excuses to skip leg day!” 

“You might be finding keeping fit challenging right now. If you’re looking for a fun home workout challenge, I’m here to help.” 

The second one is much better. Why? Because it acknowledges that many people are going through really difficult times. The “new-found free time” comment might be alienating to people who are juggling working from home with childcare or other caregiving responsibilities, or who might be battling depression, stress, or financial worries. 

Remember to focus on support, and do not publish anything that plays on people’s fears or is likely to induce panic. 

Give back where you can

What this means will look different for every business. You might donate a percentage of profits, if you can afford to. You might offer a freebie, a special discount, or a trial period. You might even simply step up the frequency and quality of the free content you give out, such as via your social media accounts, blog, or newsletter. 

Do what makes sense for your business. It needn’t cause undue hardship, but it should show that you care about your community and are committed to giving back.

Be hyper aware of your imagery

Promotional images featuring large group gatherings or big family parties, for example, are unlikely to go over well right now. They’ll come across as tone-deaf or, possibly even worse, remind your audience of exactly what they’re missing. This will make them associate your brand with the sadness and frustration that so many of us are feeling at the moment – probably the opposite of what you want! 

You can’t turn on the TV at the moment without seeing at least one ad focused around a group Zoom call or a family Facetime chat. While you don’t necessarily need to do this (in fact, please don’t, it’s so overdone that I was already rolling my eyes at it by the third week of lockdown) your imagery choices should be sensitive to the current reality. 

Play the long game

Sadly, you might do everything right and it’s still possible you will see a downturn in business due to the pandemic. It’s important to remember that this situation is temporary. You might not see the return on your campaigns immediately. But  that doesn’t mean your audience isn’t listening. If you’re visible and continually offering genuine value, your prospective customers will remember you when the time comes that they’re ready to make a purchase. 

None of us have been here before

Everyone is figuring this out as they go along. Fortunately, there’s no great secret to it. Be sensitive, give value, ensure your messaging is tasteful… and stop feeling guilty for keeping your business going! 

Good luck. 

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