Short term it will likely have an impact and it may also accelerate trends that are already under way. How will the coronavirus impact marketing? Four things to take into account.
1. Short term: Uncertainty and Risk Aversion…
The coronavirus may soon be contained and ultimately not have a major impact on economic activity levels, similarly to the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak. In the short term, however, things are likely going to get worse before they stabilize. That’s because virus outbreaks, by definition, initially have a very high growth rate of positive cases. Uncertainty rules. “I think the reason we were not specific was just because I think at the moment, it’s really just unknowable,” WPP CEO Mark Read, said during the company’s earnings call last Thursday February 27, when asked about the business impact of coronavirus on WPP’s China business. “It’s more unknowable today than probably it was Friday, if we had this meeting Friday of last week, we may [have] given you a different answer then we give you today.” As COVID 19 cases grow outside of China, the uncertainty is also increasing in the rest of the World, including the rest of Asia, North America and Europe (the main marketing hubs).
Not surprisingly, all major agency holding stocks have taken hits along with the broader market last week. With WPP’s shares falling 15%; IPG is down 5%; Omnicom is down nearly 4%; Dentsu Aegis fell 2.5%; and Publicis Groupe down 5.6%. In the real economy, global tourism and retail have been hit particularly hard, as Chinese tourists provide a major source of income for many markets.
2. Coronavirus Impact on Marketing: More emphasis on Virtual – Digital Marketing
In the short term companies are starting to restrict travel and encouraging remote work (e.g. Amazon told its employees to avoid all non essential travel for now including within the U.S.) Facebook, on its part, last week cancelled a global marketing conference in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Activations and sponsorships at live events may be impacted negatively as marketing, including event marketing will become more virtual. This is not good news in a year where analysts were expecting to see an uptick in media investments from marketers eager to capitalize on events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The virus may also accelerate a trend that was happening anyway. Executive meetings and virtual events over hangouts will increase. For an example check out Portada’s Council System of brand marketers, which conducts 12 brand decision maker virtual workshops a year.
3. Driver for E-Commerce…
In parts of China, major retailers like Starbucks, Uniqlo, Nike and Apple have temporarily shuttered their stores, while small and medium-size retailers are being hit particularly hard as foot traffic dwindles. This may happen in the U.S. in areas that have been particularly negatively affected by the outbreak. Reduced in-store activity will be a driver for increased e-commerce activity and e-commerce marketing. The big caveat here is if the outbreak creates serious supply chain issues (at producers, shipping and overall logistics e.g. Apple and Microsoft warning of supply chain problems last week), therefore limiting the amount of goods that can be purchased by online buyers.
…particularly Online Grocery…
Housebound consumers in China are turning to online groceries for their daily food supply. According to French retailer Carrefour, vegetable deliveries increased by 600% year over year during the Lunar New Year period. Chinese online retailer JD.com reported that its online grocery sales grew 215% year over year to 15,000 tons during a 10-day period between late January and early February. Concerns about food delivery due to possible food contamination have spurred recent innovation in contactless pickup and delivery services by companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. McDonald’s has implemented contactless pickup and delivery of Big Macs, fries and other menu items across China as the outbreak has unfolded. Customers order remotely – on mobile phones or by computers in store – and employees seal the meals in bags and put them in a special spot for pickup without human contact, McDonald’s says on its website.
4. Coronavirus Impact on Marketing: Boost to At-Home Entertainment, Video Streaming and Gaming
If employees are forced to stay at home more, it will also impact how consumers spend their leisure time as they may have to avoid public gathering spaces, like movie theatres, concerts and gyms, leaving more time for them to binge on home entertainment and video services. Advertising revenues of companies that heavily bet on video content and advertising ,e.g. Roku, Youtube, Netflix and others should benefit from a public that’s stuck at home.