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COVID-19 advertisers
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Consumer smiles down by 32% in COVID-19 era: What’s the new normal for brand advertisers?

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What is the new normal for brand advertisers in this COVID-19 era? Nobody knows, but one thing is clear: People are smiling less, and they are slightly more distracted. 

This according to Realeyes, an emotion AI platform that reads emotions and measures attention levels of audiences with opted-in webcams. This “unfiltered and unbiased” data is then shared with brands, agencies, media companies and publishers to use as a benchmark when optimising ads for customer experience.

Realeyes crunched the numbers from 25 February 2020, when the CDC first announced the Coronavirus outbreak would hit the US, through 1 April 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

According to analysis of video ad viewing experiences in the US, people are showing 32% fewer happy emotions, and a 2.9% drop in attention.

Other emotions like disgust, confusion, contempt or surprise are not impacted thus far.

Realeyes’ emotion detection technology uses front-facing cameras, machine learning and opt-in audiences to passively measure viewing of video advertisements. The emotion study included 58,000 comparable video views.

When it comes to emotional response to video ads, the company saw a total decline in smiles at video ads from industries like Airlines, Hotels & Travel (-35%) as well as Electronic and Gadgets brands (-60%). Video ads from industries like Food & Confectionery, Business and Finance, Home Supplies and Healthy Living did not show any significant change so far.

“During a sustained global crisis, people go through a sequence of psychological stages, like ensuring their safety and security, then processing the meaning of the situation, and then embracing and adapting to a new normal,” writes Max Kalehoff, Vice President Marketing, Growth, in the company’s blog on the findings.

“Now is when all consumers are deciding what is your relevance, your role, and your very existence in their new normal going forward.”

“Whether you’re an advertiser on defence or offence in this COVID-19 era, now is exactly the time you must keep a pulse on consumer response and sentiment. Now is exactly when your investments in channels like TV and video need to perform their best. Now is when your messaging must be crisp and clear, emotionally intelligent and engaging.”

Lessons for brand advertisers amidst COVID-19

Realeyes’ Max Kalehoff shares four key takeaways based on the emotion AI analysis.

Advertising must be emotionally intelligent

Consumers are less inclined to react happily to advertising from industries that are off-limits for safety concerns, or which are non-essential or luxurious, says Kalehoff. “That’s not to say such brands should stop advertising. Rather, they should recognise new barriers to inducing happy response, and should adjust goals and strategies accordingly.”

Realeyes recently analysed the auto industry’s first COVID-19 ads, which revealed that consumers are extremely receptive to brand advertising that emphasised safety, comfort, stability and endurance, while avoiding product pitches for speeds and feeds.

Use brand measures that don’t lie

Our new normal is epitomised by “quarantine,” “eyes on screens” and “camera on by default.”

Our new normal also is defined by an indefinite state of unknown, and evolving consumer sentiment. Kalehoff says that this makes ads that incorporate focus groups, lab research or surveys less likely to be well received as people are less likely to convey accurately what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling.

“This is a critical time to invest in observational metrics and naturally occurring biometrics, that reveal more accurate, more comprehensive and more granular intelligence about brand resonance.”

Double-down on investments that drive performance and results

During a global crisis and economic uncertainty, every element of brand investment should work harder. Marketers should defer to investments that inform and enable performance and results. “We believe that is why TV and digital video will do well. This channel is validated not only by history, but by strong and sustained attention and emotional response to the overall universe of video ads, especially in the current climate.”

Err on the side of “I know that I know nothing”

“That truly is the only thing we really know. However, knowing how consumer sentiment norms are shifting in your category and your individual brand right now is the key to unlocking your creative, media and overall brand performance,” says Kalehoff.

Companies that stay close to their consumers and remain intelligently present will be the ones most likely to survive and thrive in the new normal of COVID-19.

Keep marketing efforts going

A study released by consumer analytics company Viewers Logic shows expected spikes in consumer spending. Understandably, March was the busiest month on record for supermarkets which last week registered an increase of 82% in time spent in their sites and apps.

The home improvement sector saw an increase of almost 20% with companies such as B&Q and Homebase more than doubling their traffic on their online platforms. However, IKEA registered a steep drop in traffic of 36% on their website as consumer behaviour typically involves buyers looking up a product online and then going in-store to purchase it.

But how does media spend match this spike in demand?

While it may be tempting to look for ways to cut spending during this unpredictable time, Jordan Baker, CEO of Sanity Marketing, warns against this. “With money tight, it’s tempting to cut services you may deem ‘non-essential.’ But in fact, tough times are when you really need to be focusing on marketing!”

Using this business ‘downtime’ to restructure and refocus your marketing efforts could prove fruitful. “You want to be building brand awareness and woo-ing your
market – ready for them to spend when the saga is over. Keep your business in the minds of your consumers through social media, advertising, and re-marketing, and
they’ll flock to you when things are back to normal.”

If you have to scale back, consider sticking to tradition

Spend on influencer marketing grew 83% year-on-year in 2019, but this was pre-COVID-19. Research from Tribe, a web performance and testing service provider, reveals that traditional advertising is still more effective in driving online demand and conversions when compared to influencer marketing initiatives, such as social influencer or celebrity endorsements.

On average 85% of consumers would be prompted to buy an item having been influenced by traditional advertising, such as TV, online or print promotions. Only 29% who would convert having seen a product or service promoted by either a social influencer or a celebrity.

Deri Jones, CEO at Tribe, says that preparing for spikes in demand is crucial for ecommerce retailers, especially in the wake of our current situation. “The very heartbeat of retail is now driven by customer demand, facilitated by real-time data analytics, low-latency digital networks, and algorithm-driven micro-trends that can sweep a social network in nanoseconds,” says Jones. “A dress worn by a celebrity or social influencer, for instance, can trigger a product-specific trading spike that burns brightly for a moment before it fizzles out. If a retailer fails to meet that window of demand, they not only miss a precious revenue stream, their brand will be indelibly tarnished in the eyes of their disappointed customers.”

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