As the coronavirus outbreak continues to alter the world as we know it, area ad agencies are rolling out new work that’s playing a part in the response, while also adjusting how they reflect a societal landscape that is changing by the day.
Over the weekend, The Martin Agency launched a campaign for client DoorDash promoting the food-delivery company as playing an integral role in connecting customers with restaurants whose dining rooms have closed.
Called “Open for Delivery,” the campaign features a TV ad encouraging diners to give their favorite restaurants business by ordering deliveries through its platform.
“Even though tables are empty at the moment, the kitchens are full …” the 30-second spot’s narrator says over visuals of shuttered restaurants but still-active staff. “They’re still there for you. Now, you can be there for them.”
Martin CEO Kristen Cavallo described the campaign as one example of how brands are responding to the crisis through marketing, getting their messaging out while also involving themselves directly or providing a service to audiences stuck at home while practicing social distancing.
“Many of our clients are lifelines right now,” Cavallo said, “connecting people to food, the outside world, critical information, and goods and services. We’re seeing that with brands like DoorDash, Sling TV, Tracfone and UPS especially.”
She said Sling TV, which Martin has been working with since 2018, is offering its typically paid-subscription service for free so viewers have access to news and entertainment through the crisis. Another client, clothing brand Hanes, is among those producing medical masks for healthcare responders, Cavallo noted.
“This is a pandemic/health crisis first,” she said, “a human tragedy that requires deft responses by brands. We shouldn’t limit help to just the government.”
Locally, other businesses are responding with help from Richmond shops.
McGeorge Toyota, a longtime client of The King Agency, took to social media to promote a vehicle pickup service for customers who need a repair but may be wary of venturing out. The service expands on the dealership’s online-buying program “McGeorge @ Home,” which it launched with the agency in 2016.
Agency President Dave King said another auto dealer client, First Team Automotive in Chesapeake, is promoting a similar service with the agency’s help.
Meanwhile, other agencies have been tailoring their content to reflect the ever-changing state of the world. Aaron Dotson, a principal at downtown-based Elevation, said the agency had put the finishing touches on a campaign for a national food client when they both realized that the visuals, as well as the message, needed updating in a time of social distancing.
“The campaign featured materials where we had a big group of people in a cookout in a backyard. Is that smart to launch that campaign right now? Well, absolutely not,” Dotson said.
“We quickly got on the phone early last week and said, ‘How do we shift this campaign to be more helpful to our customers?’ In this case, we knew that customers are suddenly stuck at home, they still need to eat, they still need to cook.”
Dotson said the campaign has since shifted from an emotional appeal about food bringing people together to a more functional one sharing easy-to-make recipes using common kitchen ingredients.
Robyn Zacharias and Deb Hagan of local agency Yebo said their crew, like others in the industry, is operating remotely with most staff working from home. While it’s been an adjustment, Hagan, Yebo’s creative director, said they’ve actually seen an increase in productivity.
“In this new work-from-home mode, we have tabled all of those sidebar conversations that happened in in-person meetings, when we’d get together and we’re catching up on this and that,” Hagan said. “It really has been just focused on the facts at hand and the work that needs to get done, and we are cranking work out faster than ever. It’s an interesting experiment for us and been very positive.”
Dotson said he’s seen similar results with his staff, some of whom had been working remotely prior to the crisis.
“Thankfully, with technology being what it is, we’ve been able to really keep everything moving as smoothly as possible,” Dotson said. “It becomes about everybody being more intentional. You can’t rely upon those hallway conversations and overhearing things to get your information.
“It makes collaboration a little more challenging,” he said, “but we’re all quickly adjusting to a world of video chat and Google Hangouts.”
While agencies typically thrive off that collaborative approach and group dynamic, Susan Dubuque, a principal at NDP, said she doesn’t expect creativity to suffer from her staff working separately, noting those technologies that are allowing them to stay connected.
“Between all of the video chat, video conferencing – we can have FaceTime meetings and Chime meetings where people can still see each other – they’re still connecting,” Dubuque said. “I think our creative juices are going to still be flowing no matter where we’re working.”
Dubuque and other agency heads said they’ve seen their workloads hold steady through the crisis so far and don’t expect significant losses in business during the pandemic. While he acknowledged impacts to clients could eventually affect their willingness to advertise, King Agency’s Dave King said it’s too early to foresee any looming threats to the industry.
“That’s really going to be driven by clients and their business,” King said. “It could be that clients pull back for however long this goes on. But at some point, when it ends, people are going to have their messages that they’re going to need to get out back to the public, to let them know that they’re operating at full-scale again.”
“Long term, I think clients are still going to need marketing help. They’re going to need strategy and thought leadership even more so now once we get on the other side of this,” she said.
“Brands are suffering, except for maybe the toilet paper and Lysol brands,” Hagan said, laughing. “Brands are going to be suffering, so they are looking to the future and ‘What do we do when this breaks, how are we prepared, how are we helping them think through what needs to happen once we get on the other side of this?’”