Mark Hatwell looks at the way supermarket and financial services brands have made effective use of audio during the pandemic. 

The unprecedented impact of coronavirus has seen brands rein in their marketing budgets due to COVID-19 and according to GroupM’s Mid-Year forecast UK advertising spend will decline 12.5% during 2020 to £19.2bn, before rebounding in 2021.

While some sectors – FMCG for example – are better placed to weather the storm as the country begins to see green shoots of normality, brands need to adapt their strategies and respond to the ‘new normal’.

In the current climate, delivering ads in a trusted environment is vital and audio provides an effective communication channel between brands and consumers. In fact, recent research from Radiocentre explored the impact of radio ads on shoppers driving to buy groceries and revealed that radio ads reinforce brand loyalty among existing customers (+30%), encourage brand switching among non-customers (+39%) and significantly increase on-shelf brand viewability (+11%).

Perhaps most interestingly of all, at a time when many were feeling particularly alone and isolated, the lockdown demonstrated radio’s unique ability to connect with audiences on a truly human level and empathise with the ever-changing mood of the nation. During lockdown, brands particularly in the grocery retail and financial sectors, used audio advertising to appeal to consumers in three distinct need states – information and explanation, reassurance and connection, and distraction and escape. Here we take a closer look at how they achieved this.

Delivering information and explanation

Amidst disruptive times, consumers want clear information and explanation, and therefore supermarket brands turned to audio to communicate important, practical details such as revised opening hours. At the height of the pandemic in the UK, Lidl focused its audio messaging on in-store measures designed to keep customers safe such as encouraging contactless payments, using screens and providing sanitiser. Whereas Sainsburys, used audio to raise awareness of its SmartShop app which allows customers to shop with minimal contact.

Tesco also turned to audio ads to communicate practical advice by encouraging listeners to shop in-store to free up delivery services for the elderly and vulnerable people. Despite delivering a practical message, the Tesco ads remained firmly on brand, finishing with the message “‘now more than ever, every little helps.” The speed with which supermarkets adapted ad content to a rapidly changing situation illustrates the agility of the channel and many brands also used techniques such as dynamic audio to tailor ad creative in real-time.

Providing reassurance and connection

Brands that offer comfort and support to consumers during a challenging period will be remembered and valued post-pandemic, so reassurance is a key theme in the current climate. From “at Asda we’re working hard to keep shelves full and prices low” to “these times might feel unusual but at Aldi we’re trying to make it business as usual”, retail brands are using audio ads to reassure their customers.

In the financial sector, high street banks have always told their customers that they’ll be there during life’s highs and lows, and during this prolonged period of uncertainty this promise has never been more poignant. HSBC is a good example of a brand that reinforced its brand identity by incorporating its ‘Together We Thrive’ messaging into an audio campaign which celebrated frontline workers and focused on the theme of society working together. And Halifax continues to use radio advertising to highlight the accessibility of its online and mobile banking facilities, which enable people to manage their finances securely from home, as many continue to work remotely.

Audio is also a powerful tool for creating a one-to-one connection with listeners and research by Veritonic reveals the importance of emotional resonance in advertising. As part of the study, a Tesco radio ad, which explains how the supermarket is supporting NHS workers by giving them dedicated times to shop, resonated particularly well with listeners for attributes such as authenticity and trust.

Offering distraction and escape

Consumers don’t want everything to relate to the pandemic, craving both distraction and escape. Appealing to this need state is usually associated with brands in the travel or entertainment space and Compare the Market launched a well-timed initiative towards the end of May, when audiences were growing tired of cancelled gigs and craving live entertainment. Compare the Market teamed up with Take That to put on a one-off music event streamed via YouTube, where the band performed from each of their own homes. Tactically, Compare the Market tapped into an engaged audience of music fans through radio ads across Global’s radio stations to drive listeners to their online concert.

Outside of entertainment, brands can also provide distraction. Tesco has achieved this goal by bringing back its successful Food Love Stories campaign, which encourages people to make the food they love for the people they love. The campaign is running across a variety of channels, including audio, which is an ideal format to immerse consumers and divert attention from the outside world.

At this unprecedented time, brands need powerful, flexible advertising that can adapt to rapidly changing consumers needs. Nielsen research shows the brands that fail to maintain presence in an economic downturn face revenue declines of 11%, highlighting the importance of staying front of mind. Tesco, HSBC, Aldi, Asda, Halifax and Compare the Market are just some examples of brands proactively using audio to connect with consumers across a variety of need states, delivering ads that resonate, while still projecting a clear and consistent brand message to put them in a strong post-pandemic position.