Si Crowhurst, VP of Creative Labs at Vungle, a mobile advertising and app monetization company. He tells us how his average day and the broader business has been impacted by the pandemic.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
At Vungle, we strive to transform how people discover and experience mobile apps. Our goal is to be the trusted guide for growth and engagement, helping our clients optimise ad performance by creating and rapidly adapting ads that maintain user experience. As the VP of Vungle Creative Labs, I lead the charge on creating data-optimised content to drive engagement and increase returns for publishers and advertisers, ranging from indie studios to powerhouse brands.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
Although taking commuting out of the equation has meant more time and flexibility in my schedule, it’s also meant a blurring of work life and home life. Before Covid-19, my morning commute was a time to catch up on email that’s come in after hours, and in the evening, to listen to podcasts on the way home. It was a physical and psychological shift that helped me switch on and off from work to home. I’ve had to make a concerted effort to set routines – and not respond to work emails at all hours of the day – in order to keep a separation between work and home life. I’ve adopted an end of day walk to somehow try to replicate the experience of commuting home, which I find a valuable separation of work/home life.
I’m also encouraging our teams to do the same, and over-indexing on employee wellbeing and engagement, because we want to support our staff and make sure everyone is staying positive and motivated.
The current situation has meant a sensitivity change to our approach to art direction and messaging. We’re also promoting stay at home policies in our ads and partnering with game developers to donate ad inventory to global charities in need.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
In terms of tools, Slack is powerful, not only as a work tool, but as a way to still have “water cooler” moments, like debating why Tiger King is so popular or sharing your latest home baking triumph – or fail.
Using quirky virtual backgrounds on Zoom helps make our video conferences less repetitive, not to mention being able to hide a messy room. Google Meet has been great for members of our team with less than reliable Wi-Fi, because they can dial into calls using their phone.
Adapting my direct report 1:1’s into walking 1:1 calls has been a great way to take a break from screen time, and get outdoor time – fresh air, sunlight, freedom – while keeping connected and making sure people are being heard.
Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?
L’Oreal was one of the first out of the gate to show resourcefulness, pausing its beauty product manufacturing to make hand sanitiser in its plants, and offer it for free to hospitals, pharmacies, care homes and food stores. Their quick thinking has inspired others to follow suit, with Aston Martin switching from car production to protective visors and gowns for the NHS.
Dating app Bumble has also been skilful at pivoting. When the pandemic broke, Bumble was the only dating app with built-in video calling, and saw use of this feature spike 93% in the early weeks of March. Building on this, Bumble rolled out a “virtual dating” badge for those up for an online date, and has expanded the 50-mile distance filter to include any users in the country.
And at Vungle, instead of cancelling our regular order with a local business for lunch catering – because no one is in the office during lockdown–, we’ve continued to order lunches but are redirecting the food to organisations that feed those in need. So far, over 1,000 meals have been redirected through our global programme. I’m proud that my company has been able to apply creativity in a crisis and help our offices in London, Berlin, San Francisco, Beijing, Seoul, Singapore, and Tokyo serve their local communities.
What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
The Covid-19 outbreak has drastically impacted people around the world in a very personal way, so being sensitive and in tune with the realities people are facing is extremely important. Some companies, like Time Out, have been getting it right, rebranding as “Time In,” and going online only, with a focus on virtual events for people staying at home.
Other brands’ marketing efforts have generated mixed reactions, such as BrewDog’s hand sanitiser launch. Though many applauded the move, there was some cynicism around its heavy use of branding. Likewise, KFC faced backlash due to the unfortunate timing of its ‘finger lickin” campaign, where dozens of people licked their fingers in the commercial.
We’re actively helping clients adapt creative that resonates with current times. In the mobile gaming app context, this can mean modifying the physical environment. If we’re developing a playable ad for a game, we consider the context of today’s normal alongside creative testing and data and analytics. This can mean changing what was previously an outdoor, location-based activity – directing the player or avatar to pick up something virtually from a street or outside location – into an activity that can be done indoors instead.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
Axios reports that tech behemoths Google, Facebook and others are expected to lose billions in advertising revenue this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Predictably, many brands are reducing ad spend, while others, like Unilever, are maintaining marketing spend but reallocating it to reflect people’s changing behaviours and needs.
As the weeks of lockdown continue, some experts have viewed the uplift in mobile app downloads and video streaming as a potential bright spot in ad spending. It’s too early to tell if this increased demand and time spent on mobile will equate to increased ad spend but it’s certainly more resilient than out-of-home advertising for the near future.
Brands are also changing the focus of ads, with many companies running positive campaigns offering support, advice, and public health messages. Some of our clients have played an active role in distributing the “Stay Home. Save Lives.” message through their games, and Vungle has partnered with a group of leading mobile game developers (Miniclip, DoDreams, Kwalee, and others) to donate a portion of their global ad-inventory to support charities, including Make-A-Wish Foundation® UK and BuildAid. Vungle is handling the creative ad development and ad serving for these charity ads.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
Rather than abandoning marketing plans and budgets completely, now is the time to build brand awareness, and cultivate trust and loyalty by focusing on the concerns of consumers and not being opportunistic in this crisis.
As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, consumer behaviour is constantly shifting and needs are changing along with it. Think of how the marketing for your product or offering can be adapted to fit the current situation. Applying creativity and data intelligence to your work plans – along with well-considered context-sensitivity – is the way forward.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?
The post-coronavirus landscape is uncharted territory, and as such, long term planning and strategy for brands will mean planning for multiple eventualities. What’s the best-case scenario for the ad market to return to growth and what’s the worst-case scenario?
With many marketing campaigns on pause, brands now have the time to plan and reinvest budget into longer-term objectives. A difficult-to-predict future means considering purpose and embracing agility and adaptability. These are powerful strategies, both in the short term and for the future.