DDB Warsaw’s Marcin Trzepla on the handbrake turn from Euro2020 briefs to navigating Covid-19
Poland was one of the European countries that reacted to the spread of Covid-19 early, putting it on a slightly different trajectory. The government is already toying with easing up on restrictions in mid to late April and the official number of cases and deaths has been markedly lower than other countries in the region. That early response also meant that many Poles living across Western Europe returned home to be with families.
It’s not just the government that responded early, in the local ad industry too, marketers and agencies were quick to puzzle out how to navigate the situation as it unfurled. Marcin Trzepla is a senior strategic planner at DDB Warsaw and his team has done a deep dive about how brands should move forward, drawing on global insights as well as the local Polish context. You can read the full report here.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Marcin to find out more.
LBB> What's the current situation in Poland?
Marcin> We have about 4,000 cases at the moment [at time of writing - at publication, there are 7,771 cases and 292 deaths]. Compared to other European countries, it does not seem to be that many. It’s hard to say whether this figure is accurate, many commentators emphasize that Poland does not perform enough tests, so we can’t fully understand the actual scale of the situation. At this point, it is difficult to predict what time frame we are facing. Mathematical models show that the peak incidence is still ahead of us and should take place around mid/end of April. Will it? Time will tell. However, based on the official data, it can be said that the restrictions introduced (closed schools, restaurants, and non-food shops, borders, ban on unnecessary traveling, etc.) seem to work, slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.
LBB> A recent NY Times report revealed that a lot of Poles in the UK have been returning to Poland as they perceive the government's response to be better than the UK's. What's the perception in Poland about the handling of the situation so far?
Marcin> It's not just about the UK. It is estimated that several million Poles who live in Western Europe, have decided to come back. When closing of borders was announced, those who wanted to come back home from all over the continent had to wait in kilometre-long traffic jams at border checkpoints. I believe the main reason for this is the need and wanting to be with our families, losing our jobs abroad, or a lower cost of living in Poland.
It is true that, compared to other European countries, the Polish government reacted early, introducing the first restrictions, and then continued to add even more. This was due to the poor shape and underfunding of our healthcare system, compared to wealthier countries, hence the concern about how it would cope with a sudden increase of COVID-19 cases. This seems to be appreciated by the people, but there is also a lot of resentment about an insufficient number of tests available, especially compared to other countries, failure to prepare for the situation, and neglecting the health service for a long, long time. It’s worth mentioning that Poland is the ONLY country that did not take part in the EU mass order for medical equipment to fight Covid-19 in January. The presidential election planned for May is an additional complication, it is still not known whether it will be held and in what form.
LBB> From a cultural perspective, is there anything unique in the way that Polish people have handled the crisis? And what could other countries/cultures learn from it?
Marcin> It’s worth acknowledging that Poland as a society, quickly adapted the new situation from the very beginning of the crisis. This is the result of both - understanding of gravity of the situation, the fear, but also of the time advantage over the other countries that made us "wiser" thanks to their experiences.
Unfortunately, this crisis has shown people's true colors and there are broadly two sides: people who try to profit from the tragedy (e.g. by selling face masks for a higher price), and people displaying a selfless desire to offer help and support. Fortunately, there is much more of the latter and, as in other countries, mobilisation seems to be very strong. This concerns both business (financial support, switching production to create equipment to fight the virus, etc.), and the society that gets organised to offer as much help as it can.
LBB> What was your starting point for this research?
Marcin> We started working on the strategy over a month ago when there were only a few infections in Poland, and we were still working on the briefs for Euro 2020... However, the situation in Western Europe showed that the outbreak would not leave us out, hence the quick decision to develop the strategy for our clients and get them prepared for a complete change of plans. So, when things gained momentum in Poland, we were ready for the changes to some extent, therefore we could act quickly and implement the new approach.
LBB> And what did you find most surprising when you were pulling the piece together?
Marcin> While developing this strategy, we were actually learning what we would soon have to face. For me, the biggest surprise was how identical the graphs showcasing the increase in cases between countries were. In fact, the main difference is the time when the pandemic will escalate in each country which shows how long and at what rate individual markets will be coming out of the crisis. From a communications point of view, the behaviour of consumers in China and their relatively quick return to normality were interesting. That gives a lot of hope for a rebound. But I wouldn't want to make any predictions about the future.
LBB> This quote really struck me: "But every dollar not spent—if we choose to keep quiet—will be the price we will pay for absence and indifference." How can agencies help marketers take that long term view?
Marcin> We believe that the time we are now living in is a test of maturity for us and for our clients. In recent days, in talks with them, we have often compared a brand to a man who should extend a helping hand in the case of a threat to someone close. Therefore, community support should be a priority for all of us. Obviously, each brand can get involved in a different way, a way that best suits their narrative, but what people need the most now, is simply being present and they will appreciate it later down the line in the future. Not every brand has to give money. Taking us away from it all with a beautiful and comforting story can also be helpful.
Then, it will be important to gradually adapt business to new consumer needs, and these will certainly change in the coming weeks. We should be with our clients then, helping them get back on track.
LBB> As a whole, how do you think the Polish ad industry is handling the situation?
Marcin> We are still in the early stages of the pandemic and its effects, and many businesses seem to be still trying to find themselves in the new situation. However, the first brands that have quickly found themselves in the new situation and changed their communication by launching advertising campaigns that are tailored to the new reality and based on the pandemic strategy in addition to tactical PR/CSR responses to the situation could be seen for a few days now. We are proud that our clients were among the first to adapt their message to the time of quarantine and pandemic.
Within a few days from the start of the quarantine, we have produced, fully remotely, a nationwide campaign for T-Mobile, based on the idea “We Are For You”, in which we appreciate the enormous effort of all Poles at this time and reward them with useful tools to make it easier for them to cope with this crisis. In another campaign, created for Porsche Poland and currently being adapted for other European markets, we encourage sports car owners to stay at home. According to the idea "We know it's tempting, but stay at home", not only we support socially desirable behavior (which many advertisers are doing nowadays), but also, in line with the unique character of Porsche, we highlight the exceptionality and attractiveness of its cars.