COVID-19: marketing and advertising in Italy

The number of advertising campaigns and e-mail communications that, more or less directly, use the COVID-19 as a narrative element is increasing. I don’t “name names” because I’m interested in trying to classify the strategies adopted by the various advertising agencies and by the “DIY-marketing-experts” rather than “giving votes” to this or that essay in business hypocrisy.

A communication approach exploits the hashtag “andràtuttobene” that not so oddly reminds of Bob Marley’s tune “Everything is gonna be alright”. Some ideas are better than others, but the choice is clear: try to limit the depression that discourages buying by fueling a sense of hope.

Telcos have chosen a double level of communication: on the one hand, they profit from the mitigating effects of quarantine made possible by mobile networks and the internet. On the other hand, they offer gigabytes of traffic to “support smart working”.

It is interesting how car manufacturers – whose existence depends on the possibility of moving – have addressed this issue. The common trait of their communication is “buy now because when it all starts again, you can enjoy your new car”.

Another approach exploits the cliché of the moment (health professionals as “heroes”) attempting a “hookup” of their product with these personages. The central theme is not “hope”, then, but “emotion” played on the thread of “heroes are others”.

More subtle – almost imperceptible – is the choice of how to communicate pharmaceutical products and food supplements related to seasonal illnesses. No one even dares of suggesting that a flu shot can be useful in the fight against COVID-19. But advertising a product as a “seasonal” cough and fever remedy has a potent effect given the widespread perception that this virus causes “little more than flu”.

One can discuss the appropriateness of using COVID-19 as an advertising lever, but – at least until now – the topic has been handled by advertising agencies with delicacy and care.

The same cannot be said, however, for the use of DEM.

There are frankly irritating messages that with the excuse of the virus inform us that a company is always reachable also online to allow us to buy their products, or that – the last one just arrived from a well-known software house – they apologize because by fault of the virus they forgot to add to the spam just sent other “beneficial offers”. A special mention goes to one that offers investment advice at “popular prices” (1,400.00 Euro the most expensive) but “only for a short time”.

And I would not comment on attempts to hoard customers with “free legal advice in times of Coronavirus”. Lawyers’ code of ethics forbids this behaviour, while individuals and companies free these constraints, attack the market without neither limits nor controls.

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