Morning rush hour, Winnipeg, 04.08.20

A look at some real and imagined advertising tactics that are perfect – or preposterous – for the unbelievable time we’re living in.

If we’ve ever worked together, you’ll know that folks at McKim are all about the “big idea.” Really, it’s just a pithy way to say that at our core, we know good advertising doesn’t happen if it’s not informed by a sound creative and media strategy. 

All the math modeling and data in the world, on their own, won’t make your message resonate. To us, all roads don’t lead exclusively to search, or social, or radio, or outdoor. Nothing good ever comes from limiting your imagination – or your options.

That’s not to say, however, that the delivery mechanism isn’t important. To the contrary. Marshall McLuhan said it best when he declared “the medium is the message.” To us, that means the big idea is only truly big if it’s custom tailored to the space it inhabits.

To that end, we thought we’d try (lightheartedly) to identify some media solutions that might be well suited to the current environment, ones that might be worth steering clear of for the time being (especially if you manage brands for a living), and ones we would invent if we had the necessary power and influence to pull off that kind of thing.

Worth considering

Unaddressed ad mail
Direct mail entered the digital age years ago. At McKim, we regularly use data collected by activated Locations Services tracking from your smart phone – I know, it seems creepy – to identify well suited community clusters to deploy direct mail to. And right now people are home 24/7, looking for things to do. It’s fair to assume that if you produce something that’s even semi interesting, the engagement rates are going to be good. For instance: your (sanitized) direct mail piece can double as an origami activity, so after you’re done reading, you have a convenient art activity for the kids.

Pedestrian out-of-home
To combat cabin fever, many people are walking and biking a little more (potentially motivated by rumours of an eventual stay-at-home mandate in some communities). Some residential streets are being closed to vehicular traffic to give folks space for safe roaming. With the right idea, media traditionally used to target drivers, such as bus benches and street-level signage on outdoor bins, could work well for pedestrians and cyclists. Think of a giant bus bench with the headline, “Maximum occupancy = 1 person.” I’d sit there for a selfie.

These days most of our agency’s digital buys run though our media buying director. But sometimes it just makes good sense to buy direct. More than 1 million Canadians lost their jobs during the first week of the COVID-19 crisis. It was closer to 5 million in the U.S. That’s a lot of folks pounding the pavement – many spending time on the social platform that was built for job hunting.

Avoid, for now

Airport and airplane inventory
With the exception of the baggage carousel advertising, which is usually snapped up by the family-oriented brands – think zoos, museums and casinos (maybe that last one is just my family) – most inventory at airports and on planes is geared towards the business traveller. Based on the universal adoption of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, one of the legacies of this crisis may be far fewer flights for “biz-cations.” Whether or not that turns out to be true, right now you’d be better off joining my family at the casino (if it were open) than spending money on airport advertising.

Remember sports? The question here isn’t whether or not they’re a good fit – because, well, they’re all cancelled, indefinitely. But even when they’re back, you’d expect reluctance among some folks to jump headfirst back into mass public gathering opportunities – both because of the potential health risks and also because some may feel conflicted about buying a $12 beer when they’re still on EI. It could be that in-game sponsorships and activations tank, while broadcast placement prices skyrocket.

Public transportation
Ridership is down in many cities. It’s been reported that if the self-isolation measures last through to July, our local transit authority will lose close to $30 million. For context, last year that same transit authority turned a $15 million profit. In my neighbourhood, people would rather walk miles (sometime though a raging April blizzard) than take a bus during COVID-19 to ensure they follow proper social distancing protocols – I know, I work with some of them. Unlike airport inventory however, I think we can expect public transit to bounce back quickly when this is over.

Ridiculous things we’d like to invent

Ads on streaming services
Sacrilegious! I’d cancel my Netflix account! I’d read a book!” you’d protest. No, you wouldn’t. Every content platform, from music streaming to Instagram to Twitter, eventually gets ads. (“But I pay for Netflix!!!” you opine. Yes, and you paid for cable, too.) Truth is, there’s just too much money to be made here – especially now that everybody lives on their couch full time. And honestly, if you look at how Amazon Prime promotes its own content before you watch a show, I’d say it’s already started. And you didn’t even notice. So, chill.

Given that Zoom is the new ‘being out in public,’ surely they’ll open it up to ads soon (to advertisers other than themselves, that is). Imagine having to take a meeting break so that a mid-roll spot for Chip Home Reverse Mortgages can run? (Disclaimer – I might need one of those soon so I hope they relax the application criteria to under 55s.) Or, being able to retarget digital ads off of the common meeting phrases you love, like, “Let’s circle back on that,” or “Pull out all the stops,” or “Unprecedented/uncertain times?” This one can’t happen soon enough.

Food packaging
We still need to eat. Long ago, during simpler times when the media landscape was far less fragmented, milk cartons came with ads for missing people. Or was it wanted people? I’m not sure. Anyway, today grocery store media – at the till, on the floor, in the freezer – is commonplace. But what if we all stop going to the store? Well, I’m still buying Eggo’s. And there’s a nice big blank canvas on that box that we could put to good use. The pizza box people are ahead of the game on this one, and pizza folks are rarely wrong. Just sayin.’