Advertising during the Coronavirus

A view from Hong Kong

As the world prepares to combat the COVID-19 outbreak and many countries and companies prepare to discourage large crowds gathering and encourage people to work-from-home, it’s unavoidable that these measures are having a noticeable effect on consumer behavior.

In Hong Kong, these vital health and safety measures have helped reduce the spread of the corona virus and thankfully limit its impact. It has also led to some very strange goings on which are worth noting for any marketeers who are still trying to run campaigns from their kitchen table or sofa instead of from their desk.

So below are some simple observations about how behaviours have changed in Hong Kong in the past few weeks and which brands are seeing the consequences of these huge changes to daily life.

Music streaming is booming

With everyone working from home, people are able to relax a bit more and aren’t constrained by the stifling open-office environment.
One amazing stat is the huge increase in music streaming on the JOOX music platform in Hong Kong where laptop log-ins are up 30% in February. Without anyone else around to disturb, people are compiling reports and editing spreadsheets to their favorite music with the volume turned up and no criticisms from irritated colleagues about your questionable music taste!

This especially applies to the karaoke function on JOOX which has also seen a 25% uplift. Potentially an easy way to keep the kids entertained with the schools being closed. Or simply an excuse to perfect your favourite canto-pop hit in the safety of your own living room!


From the restaurant to the takeaway

Unsurprisingly, with people avoiding the crowds and staying indoors, restaurants in Hong Kong have taken a big hit. However, this seems to have been counter balanced by a huge increase in the use of food delivery services such as Deliveroo (up 60%) and Food Panda (up 80%).

This increased demand has led to an increase of capacity for Deliveroo’s newly launched Editions kitchens which comprise of 6 or 7 fully equipped kitchens that restaurant operators can lease out in order to reach delivery customers who are normally out-of-range of its main outlet.
This is in contrast to mainland China where people are avoiding deliveries due to worries that drivers might carry the corona virus. Instead, this has led to more drone delivery trials to be fast-tracked and just as SARS back in 2003 led to innovations in early e-commerce in China – COVID-19 could spark a faster adoption of innovative retail approaches that may become commonplace in the near future.


Insurance is going online

Stuck inside with nothing to do other than worry about how infectious the outside world is, it’s natural to think about your own health. In ever-cautious Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest insurance markets, this has led to a huge spike in traffic to insurance websites.

Hong Kong’s insurance market though is still dominated by agents and whilst a quick WhatsApp conversation with your insurance provider might help alleviate your fears, it’s probably easier and quicker to search your provider’s website – or god forbid their competitors – to find out what you’re covered for at the moment and investigate how to add to your policy.

Any insurance firm that’s able to make purchasing extra cover as easy as possible is at a big advantage and it’s no surprise to see the message “done easily from the comfort of your own home” beginning to pop-up (literally) on insurance websites left, right and centre; with the mandatory difficult-to-find miniature “x” button added to ensure maximum exposure.

For newly launched digital-only providers Bowtie and Blue by Aviva, their digital readiness is a huge advantage over the established international brands and Bowtie themselves have seen sales triple in the first two weeks in February, with the company hoping this helps encourage customers to buy online more often.  


React now or wait til later

At this current time, there are certain brands and products that are much more salient than they ever are normally and it does prompt a question for brand managers and account directors. Do you take advantage of the heightened awareness despite the sensitivity of the subject or do you stay well away from the limelight and avoid any controversy?

For a brand like Dettol it’s an absolute no-brainer and there has been a noticeable increase in their advertising on buses and across the MTR network in Hong Kong. Also, there is definitely an uptick in throat spray, cold-and-flu remedy and lozenge ads to offer some reassurance for those worried about their symptoms.


Two other products have unexpectedly dominated the news cycle in Hong Kong, but have not been hugely visible advertising-wise:

Toilet roll and condoms

Extreme shortages of both have been rumoured about constantly on social media, in the office and in the pub. For a week or so everyone’s messaging apps and social feeds were dominated by smartphone-shot videos of people crazily panicking and fighting over bog roll.  Elsewhere there’s been many an intriguing conversation about what people are using all these hastily bought condoms for. Theories range from covering fingers whilst pushing elevator buttons to avoiding a coronavirus working from home baby boom in 9 months time!

For Andrex especially though this is surely the perfect time to have an ad featuring a crowd fighting over other brands of toilet paper whilst we see a non-panicked person walking past safe in the knowledge that Andrex lasts longer. If anyone does actually make that ad – do let me know!

Obviously we all hope things get back to normal as quickly as possible – so do stay safe and wash your hands often. But if you are the Dettol brand manager in your country, now might be the time to invest in an ad campaign that features heavily on music streaming platforms.