Mediacom's Anush Prabhu on why the pandemic might actually be an opportunity
“I’ve always felt like data and technology have led advertisers astray a little bit,” says Anush Prabhu, a rather surprising statement from the chief strategy officer at Mediacom, who is, after all, a self-professed data guy.
“I’ve always felt that data had to be a conduit for something more relevant and connect with the consumer,” says Prabhu. Brand relevance, he says, has been dropping over the years, and “a large percentage of that is [due to] advertisers using data as not just a means but the end.”
But there is a force out there that might help change all that: COVID-19.
Prabhu believes that marketers’ response to the pandemic and how they rethink their marketing to consumers as they return to everyday life may actually represent an opportunity for the industry. “This refresh will give the industry a bit of a reset in how to connect with consumers and brands,” says Prabhu. “It will be imperative for us to find deeper ways for us to connect.”
It’s a paradox, and that’s fitting, because that’s what Prabhu has come to Ad Age’s Ad Lib podcast to discuss.
Mediacom has recently completed a major study of how the pandemic is affecting consumers, which it finds has caused them to exhibit contrasting behaviors at the same time. It identifies four such paradoxes: the Personal Paradox, or a fear of going out vs. a you-only-live-once mindset; the Social Paradox, the rise of safe personal space vs. new ways to connect; the Economic Paradox, or conspicuous consumption vs. revenge spending; and the Technology Paradox of nostalgia vs. digital.
For example, he says 80 percent of Americans are still hesitant to go out, yet others can’t wait to get out and see people and socialize in person.
There are many implications for brands depending on their category. He says that hospitality and travel brands can play to the you-only-live-once sentiment while also emphasizing safety and cleanliness in their marketing.
And there are also long-term positive trends caused by COVID—for example, e-commerce has been normalized as 20 percent of Americans are now ordering groceries online. “The barriers have disappeared,” says Prabhu.
Perhaps the biggest finding in the Mediacom study for marketers might be conspicuous consumption versus revenge spending, where Prabhu once again gives an answer that could be considered paradoxical given that he is in the business of selling. “Will consumers be more careful about spending? I hope so. America in general rewards spending. You get rewarded the more you spend on your credit card and consumer confidence goes up. We’ve always rewarded spending, not saving.”
“It’s time to hit refresh and see the world differently,” he adds.
During the conversation, Prabhu talks about the need for purpose now more than ever (“You can be purpose-driven and sell at the same time”); how so many people being at home has changed media spending (“daytime TV will creep up”); and the need for brands to look at these behavioral paradoxes and “pick a lane.” He also shares wisdom from his 13-year-old daughter on why there will be no more snow days.
Overall, Prabhu is optimistic about life post-pandemic. “This is a huge opportunity to change the world and make it the way we want to be. It is a great moment in time for America to vote and make your vote heard.”