Chris Hirst on the Long and Short of Coronavirus

The Havas Creative global CEO discusses the impact of Covid-19 on industry and individuals

Chris Hirst on the Long and Short of Coronavirus

“You hope that this encourages people to realise our innate fragility and the illusoriness of everything we take for granted and that will lead to lasting behavioural changes,” says Chris Hirst, Global CEO of Havas Creative. “And it absolutely will lead to lasting behavioural changes. The question is which ones?”
Leading a multinational agency in the era of Covid-19 gives rise to many questions. Clients are facing a diversity of challenges and, internally, sudden changes are forcing through new ways of working. And there are far bigger questions too, about the long term social, psychological, cultural impacts.
Some of those questions, at least the short term questions, have answers. Havas have been leaning heavily on expertise in their China offices.  Scoping out a rhythm for the coming weeks and months for markets still in peak of coronavirus or waiting for it to hit, there’s hope but caution.
“They’re definitely not back to normal in China. And they’re wary that as soon as they raise the restrictions it will come back. None of us a epidemiologists, but I presume what governments are doing is having a series of managed humps and hope that each next hump is slightly lower than the one before as they test more and get better at managing it. That’s the best case,” says Chris.
From the local team’s insight documents, the rest of the network has learned much about media consumption patterns and activity by sector. They’ve seen media prices drop while screen time – both traditional TV and online – has shot up. The home of Alibaba is already a highly engaged e-commerce market but demand on those platforms has increased. Cloud-based online businesses are flying but some sectors like automotive have seen activity plummet to almost zero – and the remaining question is how quickly activity will return in sectors that typically see a slow purchase cycle.
“People are still talking about delaying not cancelling. And I think that’s true of some things – people are still going to want to buy a new car,” says Chris. But some things are less certain. Experiential and events business have some tricky months ahead as lockdowns and physical distancing become embedded. As a keen scholar of history (though an engineer by training) Chris can also draw insight from the patterns of the past.  “I think that people’s behaviour will change in ways that are hard to predict right now. People might become more altruistic and part of the world – ‘oh my god there are dolphins in Venice’ – that’s not typically what happens after events like this, we might also find ourselves in a more fragmented, nationalistic world. I think people’s behaviour will change. Some stuff will come back, events will come back, people are social animals. Festivals and live music will come back but the question is when.”
And for clients that are seeing a demand, the questions are entirely different. How to help without exploiting, how to solve and serve need. Reckitt Benckiser, for example, which holds brands like Dettol and Durex is a major Havas client. The question too, for brands that want to be active in their marketing is how to create content and communication.
“Clearly TV and media prices are going to come down because brands will want to spend less, but at the same time there are brands that are going to want to market themselves,” says Chris. “A lot of work will be recut and repurposed.”
It’s not just client challenges that need to be addressed, the whole network is also getting used to working remotely. It’s a situation which everyone has been quick to adapt to and is providing the leadership with optimistic puzzles about what the future of agency life will look like. Remote working at scale has long been talked about by the industry, and we’re now seeing just how easily feasible it is. On the flip side, as the reality of isolation hits, it also reveals the importance of in-person contact.
“I do think, because we’ve done this vast social experiment, it will change work,” says Chris. “Not everyone can work from home and it’s actually going to starkly illustrate the limitations of what you can and can’t do from home. We’ve got a building in King’s Cross [London] and we’ve got 1800 people in that building and it makes you think, ‘do I need 1800 desks?’ I definitely don’t think I need everybody in the building all the time. But I definitely don’t want a situation where everybody is isolated at home never seeing anyone! Where is on the spectrum will we end up? And I think that’s a good thing. That’s less commuting, that’s better quality of life, that allows people to be more flexible. It gets our costs down as a business, our overhead down. All good things. I think there will be lasting changes in that regard.”
There are other long term changes too, on  a smaller,  textural level that will be woven into our interactions, our relationships. Chris ponders that we might ourselves go down in history as the ‘hand wash’ generation or the ‘no handshake’ generation, boring our bored grandchildren with tales of when we were shut inside for months.
And right now? “Of course,” says Chris, “the irony is I think that never have I wanted to go and sit in a café in Rome than I’ve wanted to sit in a café in Rome now, just because I can’t.”


How Advertisers Are Responding to the Coronavirus Crisis

The Great Recession was a low point in the recorded history of advertising. Total media ad spending declined for two straight years in the US, and digital ad spending even dropped in absolute terms in 2009, the only time that’s ever happened. But most of the buy-side decision-makers surveyed in late March 2020 by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) think the coronavirus pandemic will have an even worse effect on US ad budgets.

The IAB found that about three-quarters of respondents thought the current situation would be worse than the 2008-2009 financial crisis, including 44% who said it would have a “substantially more negative impact.” And, indeed, most respondents reported already having made changes to their ad spending. A quarter had even paused all the advertising they could.

These may be short-term changes; two-thirds also said they had not yet decided whether to adjust budgets in H2.

Are US Agency and Brand Buy-Side Decision-Makers Making Any Ad Spending Changes in Q2 2020 vs. H2 2020 as a Result of the Coronavirus? (% of respondents, March 2020)<img class="cb-widget-chart_placeholder" src="data:;base64,

Advertiser Perceptions also surveyed the buy side in late March about plans to adjust or pause spending. Almost nine in 10 advertisers said they had taken some type of action. Those actions that were most common included holding back a campaign that was set to launch later in the year (49%), changing media or shifting budgets among media (48%), and stopping a campaign midflight (45%).

These respondents expected the pandemic’s worst effects on ad budgets to be concentrated in Q2, with the Q3 impact still somewhat bigger than in Q1. By Q4, these media buyers expect to be in territory more normal than we’ve experienced over the past couple months.

Impact of Ad Spending Cuts According to US Agency and Marketing Professionals, by Level of Impact, Q1-Q4 2020 (% of respondents in each group)<img class="cb-widget-chart_placeholder" src="data:;base64,

For now, the ad channels most likely to take a hit are display, social media and digital video, with linear broadcast TV not far behind, according to the Advertiser Perceptions research. Paid search was the most likely channel to be retaining budget or receiving new money, though only 24% of respondents said they were keeping money in search compared with 47% who said they were pulling it from display, for example. About two-thirds of respondents thought performance media would get more of a focus in the coming months.

For March and April, the IAB respondents expected the largest decreases to their ad spending to occur in traditional out-of-home (OOH), digital OOH, and terrestrial radio, likely reflecting the fact that mass quarantines mean people are much less likely to be experiencing any of those media. But significant drops in spending were expected across all channels mentioned. On the bright side, respondents thought budget cuts would be smaller across all these media by May and June.

One notable difference between the two surveys: The IAB respondents were less persuaded that performance marketing was the answer to the current crisis. Almost half said they planned to decrease performance budgets over the March-June period. Meanwhile, 42% planned to increase spending on mission-based marketing, 41% on cause-related marketing, and 37% on brand equity messaging.

Covid-19: To encourage all of us to stay at home, students from the Miami Ad School branch in Europe created a campaign where Netflix billboards show spoilers for the most popular shows (Interview: Bored Panda)

“Stay at home”—that’s the message that everyone, from our governments to our friends and families, has been pounding into our heads since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s fine if you have to go shopping for groceries to last you an entire week, but some people don’t want to change their lives and they go outside for fun.

To encourage all of us to stay at home, students from the Miami Ad School branch in Europe created a campaign where Netflix billboards show spoilers for the most popular shows. Their main idea is to show that spoilers might prevent people from going out when they don’t need to, even if nothing else will.

Two students from the Miami Ad School Europe in Germany came up with the fake Netflix campaign: art director Seine Kongruangkit and copywriter Matithorn Prachuabmoh Chaimoungkalo (aka Brave).

Just a heads-up that the project is in no way affiliated with Netflix. Oh, and a small warning, dear Readers: this post contains spoilers for the most popular shows, so be careful if you haven’t seen them.

Two students, Seine Kongruangkit and Brave, came up with an innovative project to make sure that people stay at home

Image credits: mkobach

“The idea started with Brave wanted to do something for the Thai people to raise awareness about staying at home for them. Because we both have to fly back from Germany because of the virus situation,” Seine told Bored Panda.

“At first, he came up with the hashtag #homeไม่sick campaign and we also thought of other challenges for that. But then it did not really go viral as we were expected. Then, I tried to think of other alternatives and out of the blue, I thought of movie spoilers because that’s one thing millennials are trying to avoid the most. Then, I told Brave right away and he really liked the idea and believed in it, so he tried to sell it to Netflix Singapore, but then it got rejected because Netflix brand never wants to spoil shows.”

Seine said that after the idea got rejected by Netflix, she told Brave that they should publish it somewhere else before someone else came up with the same idea. “Brave then wrote me a copy for the case video and then I started to make the video, put it all in mock-ups and it was all done in 3 days, then I posted it to”

Be careful of these spoilers if you haven’t watched the shows yet!

Image credits: miamiadschool

Image credits: miamiadschool

Image credits: miamiadschool

Image credits: miamiadschool

Image credits: miamiadschool

According to Seine, most of the feedback they got was positive and some people even believed that it was done by Netflix for real.

“But I’m sure there is no perfect campaign. There are always things you can improve in a campaign. The Spoiler Billboard is a spec ad done by us under the guidance of Miami Ad School Europe. We had no intention of misguiding people. But also a bit sad that Netflix got all the credit when actually it’s our student project and credits are all of our assets for us to get real jobs,” she said.

Seine revealed to Bored Panda that she and Brave are now working on a project for a hospital in Thailand. “This one is a real thing and we want to help them as much as we can. The coronavirus situation in Bangkok is getting worse. I only hope that it will get better soon so that we all can go on with our lives.”

She also added that she hopes everyone will stay creative during the quarantine and that people will all “stay the ‘eff’ home.”

It’s obvious that Seine and Matithorn’s project gave Netflix a small boost, but it doesn’t appear that it needs it. Since the end of January, Netflix boasted a 25 percent increase in the number of unique streaming viewers.

“You can imagine, all viewing is up. It’s up on Netflix, on CNN, on television in general. The system has been very robust and can help out a lot of people,” Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told CNN, explaining how the service helps people feel less isolated.

Here’s what some people thought of the fake campaign

Image credits: lindsaymstein

Image credits: herrmanndigital

Image credits: patrickrooney

Image credits: kassieepstein

Image credits: VikkiRossWrites

Even Netflix responded when it saw the student project

Image credits: netflix

Bored Panda also spoke to Sabine Georg, Managing Director of the Miami Ad School Europe. “When the students ran the idea by me, I was pretty sure that they tick many boxes with it: extremely relevant, original idea, very clever and superbly executed, with the potential to go viral and tap into a corona-ridden world where #flattenthecurve and #socialdistancing are key,” Sabine told us.

“They first planned it as an award submission only, but I suggested that they publish it for a wider audience than just the awards jury. And when Brave and Seine launched it, with the disclaimer that it’s student work and not a real campaign, it went ‘through the roof’ immediately, making headlines very fast and gathering huge response on all social media channels!”

According to Sabine, the fact that lots of people believe it’s an official Netflix campaign shows that the project fits the brand well. “The truth is—hence the disclaimer—that this is (self-initiated) student work. But as far as I know, Netflix also likes the idea a lot.”

“We are one of the most awarded creative schools in the world and our students are known for having great ideas that win prizes and help them win prestigious jobs in top agencies. But, typically, their projects cause headlines within the ad industry—i.e. Under Armour’s Rule Yourself campaign with Michael Phelps has caused headlines for being such a well crafted wonderful campaign and has been created by former Miami Ad School students (Creative Directors: Alexander Nowak, Felix Richter / Droga5),” Sabine explained to Bored Panda.

“But the fact that a student’s project makes news on such a big, global scale has never happened before. Also because never before has such an immense event like the spread of the coronavirus been the reason for creating such a campaign!”

Sabine told us that the Miami Ad School is a place where people become who they’re meant to be. “Believe in yourself, be creative, and let the real world be your classroom. This is one of our core principles in teaching: we have teachers from Adland and from companies like Google and Facebook who share their expertise with students. Business professionals are mentoring junior creative talents from all over the world to bring out their best abilities in creation, focusing ideas, and as human beings because they learn in an intimate, collaborative environment with great diversity!”

She added that the Miami Ad School is looking forward to getting more creative talents like Seine and Brave. “Happy to get applications for our program here.

When do chinese cosumers think the crisis will end ? … A confidence in the near future measurement (Source: Dragon Tail)



In early March 2020, Dragon Trail Research conducted a survey of Chinese travelers to gather insight for the travel industry on prospects for the recovery of Chinese tourism, and how the COVID-19 crisis may impact Chinese consumers’ intention to travel and travel priorities.

 Our Top Takeaways

– 88% of respondents have canceled or delayed travel plans due to the coronavirus crisis. Half said they would travel when the crisis is over, with 19% reporting that they either would not travel or were afraid to travel.

– Travelers born in the 1990s were the most optimistic about when recovery will happen, and likely to travel sooner than older respondents. They are also the most likely age group to have increased travel budgets after the crisis. This will be an important target audience for travel marketers once recovery begins.

– Instead of an explosive rebound during any one holiday period, the survey data leads us to believe that we are likely to see several smaller waves of growth for Chinese travel, starting in May at the earliest, followed by summer holiday months and October.

– The crisis has changed travel priorities, and there is now increased appeal for less populated areas, with high interest in nature tourism, small towns, and self-driving. Post-80s and post-70s generations show increased interest in wellness tourism now than before the crisis.

– The crisis has made many respondents closer with their families, and they plan to prioritize spending leisure and travel time with family in the future. We would expect family travel to become an even more important form of travel than before the crisis.

– Among the most significant reasons preventing Chinese from traveling in the future are fears about health and safety, as well as lack of money and time due to the crisis. While there is very little that travel brands can do about the latter, apart from major discounts, post-crisis marketing will need to put forth a strong message about health and sanitation to convince travelers it is safe to visit.

Original Travel Plans

The coronavirus crisis and its subsequent travel bans began in China just at the start of the Chinese New Year period at the end of January, one of the most important times of year for both domestic and outbound travel. Consequently, many survey respondents originally planned to travel during that time. Around half of the respondents were originally planning domestic tourism, and over one-third either planned to visit family or not travel during the period. Respondents in first-tier and new first-tier cities were more likely to have plans for outbound travel compared to respondents from second-tier cities. 35% of respondents in first-tier and new first-tier cities either did not have travel plans or visited family during the outbreak, compared to 42% of respondents from second-tier and below cities.

Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer Examines Impact on Consumer Behavior: The role brands play during the pandemic

Kantar logo with a woman wearing a medical mask behind it

Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer includes findings on consumer attitudes, media habits, impact on purchase behavior and what consumers expect from brands.

Key insights:

Data, insights and consulting company Kantar introduced the first wave of its COVID-19 Barometer, which examines the impact of the pandemic on consumer behavior.

The study, released on Wednesday, surveyed more than 25,000 consumers across 30 markets between March 14 and March 23 and included findings on consumer attitudes, media habits, impact on purchase behavior and what consumers expect from brands.


At the point of analysis, there were over 200,000 known cases of COVID-19, resulting in about 8,500 deaths.

Markets could be broken down into three categories based on how far along the outbreak of coronavirus was in the area. Given how quickly the coronavirus pandemic has spread in many markets, these categories may be more informative than the results for individual markets. Markets in the early-stage category had seen relatively few cases, a low number of deaths and few social distancing measures put in place. These markets included the U.S., U.K., Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and South Africa (although clearly some have now advanced beyond this stage). Mid-stage markets, which included Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Israel, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey, were markets in which community transmission was taking place, deaths were increasing and some social distancing measures were taking place. Late-stage markets, which at the time included China and Italy, had seen a significant number of cases and deaths, with full lockdown measures in place to stop the spread of the virus.

While consumers were largely concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, personal concern remained relatively low at the time of the study. Overall concern was highest in China, but the country actually scored the lowest for personal concern. In the U.S., both total concern and personal concern were low, with total concern at the lowest among all markets measured.

The coronavirus is causing consumers to make a number of lifestyle changes in response to the pandemic. Most obviously, respondents said that they are washing their hands more frequently or for a longer period of time. Among G7 countries, 77% of consumers reported such changes in behavior, with the largest uptick in Canada (88%) and Italy (87%) and the smallest in Japan (56%). In the U.S., 80% reported such an increase in hand-washing.

Many also reported avoiding nonessential social contact, with 68% total reporting such social distancing behaviors among G7 countries. Unsurprisingly, the number was highest for Italy (86%), where the pandemic was/is at a later stage of spreading. Canada followed at 82% and the lowest percentage reported was for Japan, at just 43%. In the U.S., 69% reported taking these social distancing measures.

Among G7 countries, just over half of consumers reported self-isolating at home in response to the coronavirus pandemic. France actually led G7 countries at 85%, followed by Italy (75%). In Japan only 21% reported such behavior, while in the U.S. 64% reported taking this step.

Less than a third (29%) of G7 respondents reported working from home or working from home more often in response to the pandemic. The total was highest in Italy, where 41% reported such remote work measures, whereas about a third of workers in Canada, France and the U.S. were taking this step and only 12% reported doing so in Japan.

Among G7 countries, seven in 10 say their household income has already been affected or will be affected by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Once again the total is highest in Italy, where more than eight in 10 (82%) have already seen or anticipate seeing such an impact. It is lowest in France and Japan, where around two-thirds (65%) responded similarly. In Canada and the U.S. around three-quarters responded that they have seen or expect to see an impact on their income.

With theaters shutting down as the virus progresses, cinemas have seen large losses as markets progress from early to late stages of its spread. TV, online platforms, social networks and messaging apps have all seen increases in consumer use as the coronavirus pandemic has progressed in different markets. Among the messaging services, WhatsApp saw the greatest gains, particularly in Italy and Spain, but usage increased across all platforms.

Kantar also examined the type of content people were sharing on social media, identifying six core themes. The most common of these was people using memes and selfies to communicate more serious messages than the typically lighthearted fare associated with them. The next most common theme identified was a longing for nature as people struggle with being mostly stuck inside for social distancing (and those in the northern hemisphere watch the emergence of spring from their windows). Two equally common themes appeared to be people sharing cozy content around getting nestled in with pets and loved ones and adapting both their social and work lives to a digital format. Other themes include creativity and crafts and “new essentials” for social isolation.

So what role can brands play in this?

According to Kantar, consumers want brands to be genuine and for companies to make staff welfare a top priority and favor flexible working. Many also wanted companies to make donations to support purchases of masks and sanitizer for hospitals and have plans in place to secure supplies of services or products to consumers. Around a third of consumers said companies should make donations to support scientific research and help consumers by offering coupons or discounts. Less than 10% of consumers surveyed said brands should stop advertising.

Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic has had a dramatic impact on purchase behaviors. Consumers are largely still relying on physical stores for food, beverage and pharmaceutical needs, although around one in 10 consumers reported online purchases in food and beverage, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and personal care, electronics and clothing over the course of the last month. One in five consumers reported shopping less in-store, with around one in 10 saying they had shopped more online and around one in three saying they expect to shop more online.

A survey of consumers in China found that some categories were hit harder than others by the coronavirus. Unsurprisingly, out-of-home entertainment, dining and travel were among the hardest hit, along with hairdressing and manicure services, fitness classes, luxury items, beauty products, appliances, home fitness equipment and alcohol. All of those categories saw decreased spending or cancellations.

Conversely, household cleaning products, pandemic preparedness products, online entertainment, food and beverage, medicine and nutritional and health products all saw a boost. Personal care products saw little impact.

Corona Virus Paradox ? Les Belges utilisent massivement (+20%) la TV et les canaux digitaux (news et “entertainment”) pendant que les annonceurs les désertent… Si il y a communication, la “meaningfulness” est indispensable (Source: Havas Media Belgium – vague 2)

Ci-dessus la  seconde vague de cette analyse faite par l’équipe d’Havas Media sur l’impact du Corona Virus (Covid-19) sur son métier en Belgique. Elle consiste en quatre parties :

Premièrement, il y a une mise-à-jour des audiences TV et internet. Les derniers chiffres confirment l’estimation que nous avions faite la semaine passée (que la consommation TV augmenterait de 20%) et montrent que la programmation de la catégorie entertainment en profite aussi. Il est plus important que jamais de choisir des émissions « meaningful ».

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Quant aux internautes, ils sont très intéressés par les sites news (hors contexte app), une tendance dont les newsbrands profitent plus que les broadcasters audiovisuels. Nous voyons que le device préféré pour visiter ces sites reste le mobile, même si les premiers chiffres semblent indiquer qu’en lockdown les gens utilisent plus qu’avant leur desktop. Sur les réseaux sociaux nous voyons que le coût par reach diminue, une tendance qui s’explique par l’offre et la demande : les Belges utilisent les réseaux sociaux plus activement et une partie des annonceurs ont annulé ou retiré leurs communications.

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Cette observation nous mène au deuxième point de l’analyse : il y a un véritable paradoxe entre ce que font les consommateurs avec les médias (en consommer plus) et ce que font les annonceurs (en avoir peur). Pourtant il est possible, voire important et recommandé, de continuer à communiquer en période de crise. Afin de le faire correctement, il est important de voir comment le consommateur se comporte – non pas uniquement d’un point de vue média. Ceci constitue la troisième partie de l’analyse.

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Dans la quatrième partie de l’analyse, nous démontrons ce fait à l’aide de campagnes touchantes qui ont été lancées – aussi bien en Belgique qu’ailleurs. La façon dont certains supermarchés ont communiqué ces dernières semaines mérite l’estime, mais il y a aussi des exemples des secteurs déclarés non-essentiels et dont les magasins ont donc dû fermer. L’analyse se termine par quelques slides sur la communication du secteur média même.

Media consumption in Belgium during Covid-19 confinment time: Tv & Digital Media reach are growing (+20%) while advertising spendings are decreasing (Source: Havas Media Belgium)

This is the second edition of the havas media analysis about impact of Covid-19 on media consumption and consumer behaviors in Belgium. Additionally, we provide you some reflections about and thoughts on opportunities and on a meaningful communications approach. A few local and international examples are also included.

In a nutshell

Evolution of  Televison Reach – Opportunities

  • Audiences are going to be up +20% for the foreseeable future (during lockdown). Last week data confirm this evolution.
  • news programs are not the only one with an uplift

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  • The Belgian market is still largely a spot-by-spot buying market, which means we are facing lots of reworking with the reprogramming on all channels. However, reprogramming and larger audiences will give extra possibilities to optimize.


Evolution of  Digital  – Opportunities

  • Traditional newsbrands are outperforming A|V broadcasters on the web, esp. hyperlocal brands are doing well (regional editions). Qualitative newsbrands (De Standaard, Le Soir) are also doing well
  • The two main TV broadcasters on the web are also doing great in the French-speaking part of Belgium. In stark contrast, the Flemish TV broadcasters do not perform well on the web
  • The sales houses adapt their commercial offers (360°) and provide flexibility through their different supports

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  • Finally, Belgian spend more times on Social Media
  • Qua Search, Re-Inforcement of phase 2 is a wake-up Call for Belgians

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