Television advertisers are gaining enlarged audiences at reduced prices, writes Matt Hill, Thinkbox’s Research and Planning Director.

Do you have a patio? If so, how clean is it? If you are the proud owner of a Karcher pressure washer, like me, then it might well be sparkling. In fact, everything in your garden that can be pressure washed will likely have been given a blasting. It’s strangely addictive.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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If you don’t own a Karcher, you may well be one of the many people now considering buying one. This is because Karcher is one of the companies seizing the lockdown moment to get in front of people and generate demand.

Its TV advertising was viewed 350 million times in the first three weeks of lockdown (16th March to 5th April), compared with 200 million in the same period last year. What this means for sales we don’t know yet, but online searches have gone through the roof thanks to TV (a four-fold increase in Google searches following its TV campaign) and sales will inevitably follow.

Thinkbox has been asked a lot recently about how TV advertising is working during the coronavirus crisis. The short answer is that, in general, we can be confident that TV advertising will be continuing to work for those advertisers as it always has done, by building awareness, driving demand, and creating or reinforcing the brand memory structures which are so key to long term brand preference.

But exactly how it is working at this moment will depend on who the advertiser is and their current situation. Any travel business faced with the severe cash flow implications of the crisis will be hard pushed to justify marketing spend right now. Normally 5% of all TV spend at this point in the year comes from the travel sector. Currently it is pretty much zero.

Unprecedented value in an unprecedented time

But now is a great time to use TV for many categories – not just home-improving pressure washers. And there are many taking the opportunity, not only of the moment but of the incredible value on offer. Due to the supply and demand nature of TV pricing, with viewing levels soaring, the average number of ads seen per day has grown by 20% and, while demand dips, TV offers better value now than it ever has, and possibly ever will.

It’s likely that TV ad space across May and June will cost 30-40% less than it did for the same months last year. This is unprecedented value in an unprecedented time, and anyone who can take advantage of it should.

For online retailers, now is a clear moment in time where existing patterns of behaviour can be broken and new ones established. To this end, eBay has clocked up 600 million views on TV across the first three weeks of lockdown; Dixons Store Group has 486 million; Very has 334 million views.

Many advertisers are taking the advice of leading marketing thinkers like Binet and Field, Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp to spend through the crisis. This means they are banking the incredible value and building the extra share of voice which is so highly effective at driving market share growth.

Unilever know this game inside out and across its portfolio have seen over a billion TV views in the first three weeks of lockdown alone, double the volume of the same period last year. It has announced that it will be looking to save advertising costs, shifting spend from outdoor and other media affected by the crisis, but hopefully this shouldn’t affect TV.

Many other FMCGs, too, have been capitalising, such as Arla Foods (500 million views), Reckitt Benckiser (1.1 billion views) Mondelez (480 million) and Birds Eye (480 million views), which made a special COVID ad. It might seem strange, then, that other large FMCG advertisers are cutting budgets and losing share of voice at a time when sales are up and the value on offer is at a once in a lifetime level.

Opportunity to change habits

Some brands will use this time to change behaviour and habits. All of the supermarkets are holding firm, with increased eyeballs on their TV ads, but Tesco, which has been championing the power of TV and producing brilliant creative work over the last year, is putting the most behind itself – not only in volume of ratings, but also in its specially-made creative to reassure the country that it is doing all it can for the safety of staff and customers.

Certain categories, of course, have little choice, like travel. Many retailers, too, are closed for business and so can understandably find it tough to justify marketing budget. IKEA, B&Q, Furniture Village – this is usually a crucial time of year, but they have made the hard decision to cut their budgets.

That said, it is worth remembering that, with roughly half of TV’s effectiveness occurring in the long term, according to Gain Theory, and the current TV price significantly reduced, even if you can’t generate any sales in the short-term, there is still financial logic in maintaining a presence. SCS stores are closed across the country, but it is keeping TV ticking over by sponsoring ITV’s Ninja Warrior and will be primed in customers minds when something approaching normality returns and stores re-open.

This crisis affects everyone and everything. We won’t know the true damage it has caused for some time to come, but we do know the damage that cutting advertising can do, especially TV. Brands that reduce spend in recessions come out the other side weaker.

But the opposite is also true: brands that increase investment emerge stronger. And for every brand that can’t advertise now, there are those for whom it is the perfect time to speak to huge TV audiences – especially as some other forms of advertising are temporarily turned off or down. The fact is, if you want to talk to people during this crisis, then TV is your voice. The advertisers that do this well will be remembered for it.