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The somewhat murky ethics of advertising during a pandemic and how to do it well

Using paid advertising, such as targeted Facebook ads, Google Ads or remarketing, is basic best practice for businesses…when there isn’t a global pandemic. But what about when there is?

Here’s our take on how to approach paid advertising during the Coronavirus/Covid-19 outbreak;

  1. Talk About The Situation.
    Everyone knows what’s going on and ads that pretend like nothing is happening are tone deaf at best and at the worst, downright offensive. Your customers are in a very unique, stressful and unsettling position right now – as are you. Meet them where they are. You can do this by the way you speak, the approach you take and the kinds of things you offer.
  2. What is the right approach?
    Yes, you want to keep your business afloat, but people do not want to support anyone that seems to be capitalising off of panic and fear. There is a good way and a bad way to do this.

    It’s doubtful that anyone other than toilet paper companies will be making a big profit over this period, so being at peace with not making the same revenue you thought you would is step one. Next is thinking big picture – how do you want your customers or potential customers to think and feel about your brand, service or product? I’ll tell you – you want them to know that you care and that you’re switched on and reasonable.

    To do this you need to think seriously about what you’re able to GIVE right now instead of just what you want to get. If you can offer free advice or a reduced cost service then people will register your brand as ethical, flexible and socially aware.

    Take an approach of compassion, empathy and service and you’ll be operating on the right side of this pandemic. To be honest, that’s not bad advice in general.

  3. What ads are working right now?
    • Messages of hope, community, support, common sense safety PSA’s and positivity. Just look at what’s doing well on Instagram and you’ll get the picture – videos of people running free gym classes on roof tops for apartment dwellers to join from their decks. That great match image where one match has pulled away and stopped the fire lighting all the others.
    • Free things can work as a form of service to others – this also helps align your brand with your values which is always a good idea.
    • People still need things, they still want to shop – just think carefully about what they actually need and prioritise that over anything non-essential or off-colour. If you’re in a luxury industry, consider taking the perspective of comfort over need or want.
    • Virtual meetings or conversations – Drift chat, webinars, Google Hangouts – pivot but keep your offerings available.
    • Lots of people may need new employment at this time, offering work opportunities or making listings available could be heading towards a boom.
    • Anything you can or are doing for your local community should be shared.
    • Any measures you’re taking to help stop the spread of the virus are worth talking about so your customers know how responsible you’re being – consider emailing them or posting about this if you haven’t already.
    • Something to look forward to like future in-person events could be suggested, or you could crowdsource what people miss most and help future-plan those very things. #hope.
  4. What ads are not working right now:
    • Anything to do with vanity.
    • In-person events or event related items.
    • Travel – unless it’s in the future but probably way too soon to safely predict when or what that might be like.
    • Anything too expensive, houses, cars etc.
    • Anything that’s aggressively selling something – people are delicate, treat them carefully and with respect.
  5. So, should I advertise during a crisis?
    Advertising isn’t the best description of what you should be doing – keeping the home fires burning so people know you’re there is what you’re aiming for. Keeping present and in touch with your customers and even sharing what you can with new ones is all appropriate right now. Even if you find people are buying less, keeping front of mind will help ensure that, when they feel safe again, they’ll remember your brand and return to your service or offering.

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