Measuring gains when everyone is losing

Caitlin Ammann
By Caitlin Ammann | 9 June 2020

Caitlin Ammann is planning director at Edge.

While the advertising world is left reeling in the face of a global pandemic which has – understandably – seen budgets slashed and activity put on hold, I’ve been thinking this week about the campaigns that went ahead. More specifically, what to do with the results from the campaigns that went ahead. Any benchmarks and baselines we may have established before the pandemic are out the window. So I’m left asking myself, how do we measure the success of a campaign that runs in the era of COVID-19, when there is simply nothing to compare to?

Unless you sell food, booze or jigsaw puzzles, goals set at the start of the year will be next to impossible to achieve. Prepare yourself now for some year-on-year comparison charts that would make any marketing department run for the exits.

But that’s doesn’t mean every campaign that runs during this time – especially in hard-hit categories like hospitality and travel – should be judged as abject failures.

So what can we do to gauge effectiveness?

Adapt & adjust objectives: We’ve seen many brands change focus since the start of this pandemic, but not every brand can re-tool factories to start producing face masks. Campaigns must also re-tool. Perhaps your initial objective was footfall, but you’ve had to change tact to focus on affinity until shopfronts reopen. Make sure those pivots are reflected in your measurement plans. No brand should be working off the same scoresheet in June as they had in January.

Get creative with comparisons: I’ll be looking to compare my clients’ results with industry and national averages during this time, tapping into Treasury, ABS, and ASX data to look at the overall impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Yes, sales are down. But are they down as much as category averages? Breaking the fall by even just a few percentage points could have huge implications for a business. Did that savings allow a branch to remain open? Or a franchise to convert into a fulfilment centre? There’s a data story to tell, if you’re willing to find it.

Understand recession psychology: I’ve been reading back through marketing commentary written during the GFC, and am reminded how differently consumers respond in the face of economic uncertainty. Some will stop all discretionary spend, others try to maintain degrees of normalcy, while still more adopt a live-for-today attitude (unless of course they become unemployed). Understanding where your customers fall on this spectrum – and discounting those that halt all spending – could better contextualise the impact of advertising during this time.

Anyone who’s ever written an Effie paper has had to answer an unassuming question at the back, worth a measly 10 points, which asks the author to examine and then discount any external factors which may have contributed to campaign results. I’ll admit I haven’t spent much time on this question in the past, but I reckon it could soon become the star of the show. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll see a few new Effies categories: Pandemic Response on a Non-existent Budget, or Best Use of a Shutdown. But I kid. While there’s still a long to go until life returns to some semblance of normalcy, I for one am seeing enough light at the end of the tunnel to want to start measuring it.

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