The Coronavirus pandemic has had a large-scale impact on human attitudes and behaviour that has altered consumption patterns across industries.
While most sectors faced uncertainty due to the COVID-induced lockdown that brought the country to a halt, television channels witnessed an unprecedented increase in viewership. More people turned to TV as the primary avenue to stay informed and entertained. This massive disruption in TV consumption behaviour has necessitated marketers to view the small screen advertising in a new paradigm.
Triggering scale behaviour change with immediacy
During Q1 FY20, the core lockdown period in the country, TV’s share of adex was as high as 51 per cent, while that of digital was at 30 per cent1. Even with shrinking budgets and an intensified need to justify every rupee spent, marketers placed their trust on TV as the need of the hour was to pivot communication to messages of solidarity, safety and sensibility overnight.
Coupled with that was the immediate task to communicate continuity – a message from brands telling consumers, ‘Don’t worry, I’m right here to fulfil your every need.’ With the largest penetration in the country (76 per cent, as per the latest IRS study2), TV became the obvious choice for marketers to drive large-scale behavioural change.
We saw how the government and brands took the television route to generate immediate and large-scale awareness about public health and safety during lockdown. ZEE successfully leveraged its network strength to support this fight against COVID through the #BreakTheCoronaOutbreak 20-second #HandwashBreak that provided a real-time behavioural trigger for millions.
#HumAndarCoronaBahar social distancing campaign gave people reasons to stay inside their homes. With more than 600 million daily reach and 250 minutes of highly engaged viewing time3, brands must look at TV as not just the best medium for long-term ‘brand-building’, but also the one that changes behaviours and sentiments with immediacy.
Building credibility for brands – the ‘blue tick’ of advertising
Due to the disruptive nature of the lockdown, a plethora of existing needs became more amplified (for example, the need to wash hands), while new needs emerged (everything-from-home), giving rise to new categories. While existing brands pivoted to fulfil these needs and new brands emerged to plug gaps, one thing was common - how they took to the television to communicate with the consumer.
Categories like e-commerce, BFSI and education were advertising on TV at higher levels than the same period in 20194... brands from these growing categories turned to TV as the most trusted medium for advertising5, landing their lockdown-born propositions not just in consumers’ minds, but also in their hearts.
Emerging categories and brands sought TV to help them build instant credibility at scale, a reflection of the saying, ‘Agar TV par aa raha hai toh sahi hoga.’ The need for credibility is now more pronounced than ever before and brands would do well to keep communicating with their consumer in an environment of trust.
A family that views together, buys in, together
As the lockdown progressed, people stayed confined to their homes as much as possible, spending more time together as families. The unprecedented rise in viewership among the entire family that we saw earlier, has persisted as a habit. Non-prime time continues to see 40-50 per cent higher viewership than pre-lockdown levels6, as families turn to the TV more often throughout the day.
Essentially, the viewer unit has evolved from different individuals at different points of time through the day to the entire family throughout the day. This gives brands the opportunity to influence the entire family through a single medium, message and not break up their advertising touchpoints and, hence, higher cost of reach to target different members of the family.
This is also critical since with families coming closer, there is a buy-in from every member, even for the groceries coming into the household. According to an Accenture study, TV provides 2-4x greater brand ROI than high-growth media channels and a significant ‘halo effect’ on other media7. At every point of the consumer funnel, brands must utilise the strength of TV to maximise advertising ROI.
The sweet spot between the celebrity and the influencer – the TV family member
In the last few months, with the return of fresh content on general entertainment channels (GECs), consumers have taken to their favourite characters and stories as if they were waiting for a missing member of the family that is returning home after ages. This highlights the power of TV characters as emo-influencers, a power that far surpasses that of micro-influencers, who often operate in their own expertise niches.
Television offers marketers a unique set of influencers that millions of viewers invite into their homes every day and night, whom they trust beyond reproach and look to as an aspiration and a reflection in equal measure. When a popular FMCG brand’s long-standing brand ambassador was struggling to connect with the Marathi audience, the brand leveraged the power of Marathi TV characters from the Zee Network to drive ‘achievable aspiration’, boosting its trust scores in the market.
Brands must recognise this huge untapped potential of influencers, who have the ability to elicit tears of laughter and joy from families across India every day, day after day.
As the country unlocks and brands look to set forth on the road to recovery, the festive season offers the perfect opportunity to bring back joy to their consumers’ lives. However, as with unlearning and relearning their consumers in this period of intense uncertainty and disruption, brands must also unlearn and relearn the new language of advertising on TV to ensure the maximum bang for their buck.
 PMAR Mid-Year Review 2020
 IRS Q4 2019, Last 1 month consumption per cent
 BARC-Nielsen Reports – Edition 11, Aug 2020, Weeks 30-33 Avg
 BARC-Nielsen Reports – Edition 10, July 2020, Jan-Jun 2020 vs 2019 Avg
 ‘Consumer Trust in Digital Marketing’, GroupM Report, Mar 2020
 BARC Data, Avg. Impressions, All India, 2+, 6 am to 6 pm, Week 33 vs Weeks 2-4
 ‘Television Turns the Channel on Brand ROI’, Accenture Strategy, 2017
(The author is the chief consumer officer at ZEE.)