by DAVID BECKER, president and CEO, Blue Plate Media Services (BPMS)

Where do I start? It was just one month ago when we were dashing through the halls of the Javits Center during Toy Fair New York (TFNY). Just a handful of days later, the world came to a halt. It is important to note that our physical health, our mental health, and the caring for our families, friends, and neighbors is the most important metric we can talk about. Turning our attention to the coronavirus — and how this global pandemic affects our marketing and messaging — is another story.

By March 17, the U.S. had more than 4,000 cases of coronavirus, which began spreading in key hotspots across the country. This pandemic has instilled fear in the American public. Consumers have reacted in both expected and unexpected ways. According to Google Trends, while there was some initial fear in the U.S. in late January to early February, the real concern began in late February when searches for “coronavirus” skyrocketed.

A Growth from Knowledge (GfK) study from early March stated that Americans began canceling travel plans, reduced visits to physical retail establishments, and started shopping online more. In a recent poll of our BPMS toy clients, we saw that overall toy sales were down, but we saw massive sales spikes in puzzles, followed by games and in-home activities, including arts & crafts and construction toys. While there are store closings, Walmart and Target remain open, and the dot-coms are busier than ever.

As of this writing, Amazon is currently not accepting deliveries of non-essential products until at least April 5 — but it is shipping some of it to consumers, sans some exceptions to Prime shipping that will resume on April 21. In key categories, we are seeing skyrocketing sales reports that are rivaling pre-Christmas numbers. It’s a branding bonanza and a rare opportunity to get your product(s) into the hands and hearts of your consumer.

When people are stuck at home with a need for distractions, they spend more time on streaming services, social media, playing games on their smartphones, watching TV (both linear and non-linear), using food delivery services, and interacting with their families.

In just a few short weeks, some interesting trends have emerged, particularly for linear TV. Overall consumption of kids’ channels and co-viewing with families is increasing due to more kids being home from school.

So, what happens now? If your marketing campaign is to drive to fresh, new content or product sales, this is a disguised opportunity.  And, if you’re interested in driving brand awareness in safe and relevant environments, it is clear that your advertising messaging will be seen — now more than ever — as media consumption is at an all-time high. Of course, brick-and-mortar retail closings and replenishment issues are throwing a wrench into the equation. We can drive awareness, but how does this translate to product sales?

As observed by our team, there are many cross-screen opportunities to reach and engage today’s kids and their families, as we muddle our way through this unchartered territory. We find ourselves in a catch-22 environment where toy marketers can drive their branded messaging, but where are we driving the sale when the pipeline gets clogged? What is a marketer to do?  Do you add media dollars to a category that is already experiencing organic growth? Do we spend against a product that cannot fill the supply chain? Or do we turn our attention to branding? Of course, there is also a sensitivity issue.

We are finding that media planning for the months ahead is more important than ever. Now is the time to seed your messaging — and your audience — for when life returns to normal. You will have a jump on your competition. People are spending more time at home with the need to entertain themselves and their families with streaming services, social media, TV, and mobile apps. So, now is a great time to leverage time spent with media, to break through the clutter, and to drive your ad content and brand messaging.

There are long-term benefits of advertising during troubling times. During recessionary periods, advertisers can increase sales, leapfrog over their competition, strengthen retailer partnerships, deepen consumer relationships, and build market share, leveraging ROI on ad spend. According to a recent survey, 86% of consumers say that companies who advertise during a “down economy” are top of mind when it comes to making purchase decisions.

Stay strong. Stay safe. And stay connected with your audience. Your brand will be better because of it.