Fear sells. Fear also spreads. People who work in advertising are correct to feel fear, right now.
According to The New York Times, more than a million Americans are expected to lose their jobs by the end of March.
According to Moody’s Analytics, nearly 80m jobs in the US are currently at risk due to the coronavirus, more than half of the jobs in the US economy. Impacts are being felt throughout the retail, food, hospitality, service and entertainment industries with many businesses and productions completely shutting down.
Retail Pain Is Ready To Radiate
Over the past several days, my reporting here has focused on the collapse of the retail sector. As stores close from coast-to-coast and remain closed for extended periods, businesses with no income and no savings will fail. As this widespread failure occurs, the retail supply chain will also feel the pain. Companies that provide services to retailers–like ad agencies and design shops–will be hurt badly in this global COVID-19 emergency response.
Many who work in advertising already know how tenuous their jobs are, no matter the external forces at play. Many who have experienced layoffs in the past know this to be true in their bones.
Here’s a sense of how high the fear level is today…
Fishbowl surveyed over 17,000 verified professionals from companies such as IBM, Deloitte, JP Morgan Chase, Edelman, Ogilvy, and Accenture. Overall, 54.06% of professionals believe that the coronavirus will result in layoffs at their company.
Advertising industry professionals expressed the most fear about company layoffs, with 65.4% answering with ‘Yes.’ Conversely, lawyers had the least fear of company layoffs, with only 31.86% answering with ‘Yes.’
I can see where the legal eagles are coming from. Lawsuits are coming their way. But what about the need for a new ad campaign?
Will Creativity Save Us?
Marla Kaplowitz, President & CEO at 4A’s, wants the ad grunts of the world to dig in and fight through this period of economic instability.
As brands focus to identify the right tone, there’s an opportunity for agencies to leverage their greatest strength: creativity. We know that creativity tends to flourish amidst chaos as people are forced to address a new reality as well as find outlets to express their frustrations and emotions under certain constraints and restrictions. Now is the time to unleash the power of creativity – in all forms – in new and different ways to fuel and strengthen business.
Her argument sounds solid, provided that you don’t poke it with a stick. Creativity isn’t an economic balm, it’s a problem-solving process. The problems that advertising people are paid handsomely to solve are marketplace riddles with the goal of moving a percentage of the public towards an offer.
Advertising works when people have money to spend. When people don’t have money to spend, all of a sudden clients don’t have money to spend either. No money, no new business. No new business, no employment. No employment, no way to pay bills.
Speaking as someone who has found the need to get creative, over and over again to find work, I realize not all problems can be approached creatively. There are times when following orders, or convention, is needed. For instance, to flatten the curve of infectious disease, it makes sense to follow orders.
Online Is Not Always A Viable Alternative
Steven Minsk, CEO and founder of LogicManager, a Boston-based risk management firm, asks: “How will your organization generate revenue and execute operations with workplaces mostly either off-line or remote? In 2019, only an estimated 14.1% of all retail sales worldwide were done through the Internet. With physical purchasing cycles potentially being disrupted, what will happen to that remaining 85.9% of business activity?”
The idea that things can just move online is absurd. Retailers are supposed to get creative and build online stores and communities around them when for years they’ve relied on foot traffic to survive?
The same is true for the remote workforce. Millions of people are being asked to work from home today and to rely on communications technology to stay on top of one’s workflow and digitally tethered to one’s team. For many information workers, it’s not that hard to do, but for others, it is hard to make the switch, especially under duress. I wouldn’t want to be a teacher adapting to online teaching and coursework for the first time.