Covid-themed ads no better, but ‘scrappy’ ads do

Vice President of Agency and Media Solutions Tara Walpert Levy speaks at the From Handset to TV panel, Building for Today’s Video Viewing Experience on the Times Center Stage during of the 2016 advertising week in New York on September 28, 2016 in New York.

John Lamparski | Getty Images

In the early days of the pandemic, a trend emerged from television commercials with inspirational music stating that brands are “there for you” and describing what they do during “unprecedented times”.

But YouTube advertisers mostly avoided the trend.

“80% of the ads we saw in April were unrelated to Covid; they were direct ads,” said Tara Walpert Levy, vice president of the agency and media solutions at Google and YouTube.

In addition, the advertisements on the theme of Covid did not perform better than the conventional advertisements on the site.

She said the company had looked at factors such as what people looked at and how they engaged, as well as brand parameters such as brand consideration or preference. Surprisingly, YouTube has found that Covid-specific ads are neither better nor worse than regular ads.

“We were surprised not to see more correlation with Covid-specific messaging,” said Walpert Levy, at a virtual seminar hosted by YouTube and MediaLink.

The advertising industry is already facing advertisers who are cutting or delaying their marketing spend, and this is preparing for the worst, as advertising is often one of the first things companies cut back during a financial downturn.

But Google and its YouTube unit have so far been quite resilient. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, said in its call for first quarter results that direct response advertising has grown substantially year over year, although brand advertising has slowed to the mid-March when the pandemic forced closings worldwide. YouTube advertising revenue increased 33% year over year.

No “beautiful music and empty streets”

While advertisers aren’t making a lot of Covid-specific announcements for YouTube, they’ve adapted their posts so far – restaurants have turned to delivery advertising, while retailers are pushing pickup in curb, for example.

They are just not the kind of pandemic ads that have quickly become the subject of the parody.

YouTube has seen “all kinds of things right now, but not nice music and empty streets and some of the things we originally saw around the hero halo,” said Walpert Levy .

“These ads weren’t bad; they did good things and I think they really interacted with people at the right time, we were surprised not to see more impact. I think it was maybe because everyone has rushed on it … It’s harder to tell if you’re not more focused on your brand and how it connects authentically. ”

The pandemic has forced advertisers to cut production to keep users safe, which has affected the look and feel of many ads. Ford, for example, has mixed archive footage with new footage shot with a much smaller team for its new advertising campaign. JPMorgan Chase said its process had been cut from several months to several days for a recent campaign, in which the company’s advisers spoke to clients almost from their homes.

Walpert Levy said that these simpler advertisements can be positive for brands, which have generally opted for beautiful, high-quality commercial shoots.

“We see, by necessity, a much more vicious production,” she said. “You know, this is something that brands have historically been very concerned about, in terms of how it would affect perception or results … These have been as strong or better than most of the other ads.”

She mentioned an ad by Ryan Reynolds for mobile wireless service provider Mint Mobile who “couldn’t be more scrappy.”

“It is one of the best performing ads right now,” she said.