Looking back on a year of the pandemic, and WPP’s recovery of sorts: Friday Wake-Up Call

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One year later

Good morning! We have now been living with the threat of the coronavirus for more than a year. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the virus a global pandemic, which has resulted in nearly 530,000 deaths and 29 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S., along with nearly 10 million lost jobs as businesses closed up. But things are taking a turn for the better. As of Wednesday, the U.S. has reported fewer than 400,000 new coronavirus cases a week, a number not seen since October, and increasing numbers of people are getting vaccinated.

To encourage Americans to get vaccinated, the families of living past presidents—the Obamas, Clintons, Bushes and Carters—came together on the one-year anniversary in two new PSAs from the Ad Council, by creative agency group SJR and Pereira O’Dell.

One year ago today, Ad Age began tracking the marketing industry’s hour-by-hour response to the pandemic in this blog. We documented moves like Coors Light halting its “Official Beer of ‘Working’ Remotely” March Madness campaign. The tournament was later canceled and working remotely, of course, took on a whole new meaning. The advertising world was forced to close offices, stop agency reviews and halt campaigns.

As the pandemic wore on and Zoom fatigue set in, we cataloged in a follow-up blog about how brands like Coors Light, Heinz and Yelp got crafty in their pandemic ads and how businesses like restaurants were fighting through the unprecedented slump. While many businesses are still figuring out their place in the new normal, it’s apparent the industry has come a long way since the start of the pandemic.A slow recovery

WPP’s earnings report on Thursday is the latest from agency holding companies to show a slow, but steady, recovery since lockdowns started a year ago. Ad Age’s Judann Pollack writes that WPP CEO Mark Read told analysts the holding company has seen “sequential recovery” with net sales dropping by 6.5% in the fourth quarter. Still a dip, but a substantial improvement from the 15.1% deficit it saw in the second quarter of 2020. Read also said WPP’s debt is the lowest since 2004. Despite the losses, WPP expects its e-commerce business to rise by 19% this year and connected TV spending to jump by 40%, evidence that the pandemic has boosted those areas.Diversifying budgets

It’s time for brands and agencies to follow up on their promises of increasing their diversity and inclusion with monetary action–and that includes media buys. Several media and creative agencies, like IPG Mediabrands, Mediahub and Dentsu, are hosting events to educate clients around diversity-owned and diversity-targeted media. “The TV upfronts and digital content NewFronts present real opportunities for these companies to prove they are willing to allocate dollars to the cause,” writes Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi.

There remain, however, major hurdles for brands looking to invest in minority-owned media companies, writes Poggi, including a lack of measurement and analytical tools, the fact that diverse companies might not appear in planning tools, and the absence of available data that would make them a strong choice for media placements.

Several brands are willing to work around these pitfalls, and many are reaching out proactively for the first time to do so. Michael Roca, managing director, multicultural at PHD, says clients are now approaching him asking how to reach specific diverse audiences, rather than the other way around.Lean on me

Apple and Google’s new privacy restrictions will result in brands having a harder time reaching individual consumers on social media platforms. Facebook and Snapchat are now being more frank about what advertisers should expect. Facebook has stated it is in alliance with Google, while Snapchat has released a guide for advertisers and app partners about Apple’s changes.

While most brands are in limbo waiting to see how Apple and Google’s restrictions will impact their reach, experts believe advertisers will have to lean on their work more than ever before. “Creative will have to work harder for brands as audience targeting becomes less effective,” Kunal Gupta, CEO of social media display ad company Polar, tells Ad Age’s Garett Sloane.Just briefly

‘Burger Queen’: Majority women-owned ad agency Hunt, Gather created a line of merchandise it calls the “Burger Queen” that reworks Burger King’s failed International Women’s Day campaign with an inclusive twist. Empowering statements like “A woman’s place is anywhere she wants” appear on T-shirts, tote bags, stickers and a poster, ranging from $15 to $25, with all proceeds going to the Girls Empowerment Network.

Women like sneakers, too: Ebay has launched “The Female Sneakerhead” collection, which includes t-shirts, hoodies and socks in a sneaker shop that also showcases curated shoes from popular women influencers in the space.

More Reynolds: Actor and marketing wizard Ryan Reynolds is back once again, this time as an animated panda Girl Scout, in a spot for low-sugar snack brand HighKey. As the brand’s spokesanimal, he advocates for canceling sugar, but not cookies.  

That does it for today’s Wake-Up Call. Thanks for reading and we hope you are all staying safe and well. For more industry news and insight, follow us on Twitter: @adage.

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