Brands Are Getting It So Wrong, The Pandemic Is the Worst Time To Go Quiet


“Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful” – Warren Buffett.

With the world in lockdown and quarantine, and experts claiming that we are heading into a long term recession, many companies are turning down their marketing or stopping it altogether. In spite of this, some marketing experts, industry insiders, and business leaders around the world have pointed a light onto the historical recessions and argue that going quiet now is the worst thing a brand can do.

“It’s rational to think that if the sales aren’t coming in we need to stop all campaigns, all activity on social media and all communication with our target audience, but this is where so many brands are getting it wrong…. now is the time to think outside the box and provide a voice of reason and consistency in a time of uncertainty.” – Group sales and hospitality marketing manager of Moriarty Group, Helen O’Dowda.

Although some are cutting back because the economy is predicted to get hit by 2.7 trillion dollars, “from going through two crashes (the dotcom crash in 2000 and the real estate crash in 2008) now is the best time to double down,” echoed Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSMetrics. The online marketing expert has advised companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP, and Viacom and shared his opinion  that “during an economic downturn, companies will have less competition and this translates into easier and faster results.” A historical review of companies during past recessions offers invaluable insight into why staying relevant now is essential and the best way to go about achieving long term growth.


What Can We Learn From The Great Recession of 2008?

The Great Recession of 2008 has provided a number of case studies for marketers and brands to examine human psychology during an economic downturn. For example, the middle-market consumer will simplify spending patterns and be on the lookout for high-value deals. In an interview reported by CNBC, vice-chairman of Deloitte LLP Rod Sides expressed that “the financial crisis of 2008 left an indelible mark on consumer behaviors and (American) consumers are still conditioned to wait for the deal.” The most important thing for both the middle class and luxury retailers to get at this moment is the psychological stressors of their audience. Consumers are eager to escape their realities and therefore their purchases will range from emotional treats to educational investments.

Whereas consumers previously turned to retail therapy like designer outfits or jewelry for self-soothing, the world wide quarantine has created new opportunities for entrepreneurs to sell meaningful services: online educational courses, yoga classes, virtual wellness retreats, food deliveries, and a host of other creative and value providing intangible items. For the luxury industry, retailers do not need to fear to cheapen their brand image with discounts. The luxury world is first and foremost about indulgences, extravagances, and embracing pleasure and the recession does not change this. Consumers are making emotional purchases now and will gravitate towards brands that offer them support, understanding, and a pleasant distraction.


Case Studies During Great Recessions

In an interview with Marketing Week, Marketing Consultant Peter Field referenced case studies of companies that cut back on spending for brand building during the Great Recession 2008. Back then the focus was on performance spending but this would not work now. “Brands have one of two problems: either they can’t meet demand because of panic buying, so who wants to stimulate short-term sales; or they have no customers because people are not allowed to go and buy it, in which case ditto,” said Fields.

The unprecedented Covid-19 situation has created an environment where the only logical course of action is to invest in long term growth. Not only will this help brands “bounce back quicker” after the recovery but it will also allow their voices to grow louder. Data from Kantar Group indicates that 60% of brands go dark during a recession, therefore companies that invest now will be seen as valuable and reliable in the eyes of the consumer. Whereas most companies are going dark during the crisis and pandemic, the brands that stay active will come out stronger.

“I was taught to never waste a good recession,” Angela Ahrendts remarked during her tenure as the CEO of global luxury fashion house Burberry.

An example of a company that invested and saw growth during the Great Recession of 2008 was Virgin Atlantic. In spite of falling passenger numbers and increased oil prices, the airline responded by launching a 25th-anniversary campaign. The customer response was powerful. Virgin made 20% of its overall revenue during the campaign, equally £10.58 for every £1 invested. The company won a silver award for its IPA Effectiveness in 2010.

Other significant findings of companies that choose to halt advertising during recessions vs keep it flowing can be studied from data provided by Mc-Graw-Hill Research. The company investigated 600 companies from 16 industries during the period 1980-1985. The results indicated in 1985, that some company’s sales had risen up to 256% and experienced further sales growth throughout the four year period. In contrast, companies that cut their advertising during the recessionary years remained flat and received modest sales growth for two years.


“When times are good you should advertise, when times are bad you MUST advertise” – creative – Award-Winning Integrated Marketing


Is It Ethical To Be Marketing During Corona Quarantine?

Although it is true that consumers are slowing down their spending, spending more time at home means they are increasing the amount of time on their screens. Both phone usage and tv viewership are already higher than normal as people are indoors more, wrote Michael Scantlebury, founder at London ad agency Impero, in an email to CNBC. However, the question many business owners are grappling with right now is about the morality and ethics of profiting in a time like this. And for brands that decide to continue advertising, is there a correct way to do it?

Marie Forleo, the host of MarieTV, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and named by Oprah as a thought leader for the next generation, shed some light on the situation. “It is my responsibility to keep making money – and that of anyone who can right now – to keep my business moving so that I can keep my team employed and in turn, they can take care of their families,” says Marie. She further adds that “the antidote to hopelessness is helpfulness” and shares that brands adding value, positivity, and ingenuity are not just making money they are making a difference.

So the question to answer for brands continuing to advertise is, what’s the right way to do it? “ They need to communicate effectively and be authentic. In the long term, they will gain.” – Peter Field.

An example of one of these stories comes from a student of Marie Forleo’s Digital Entrepreneur B-School Program. In a recent tv episode, Marie shared how Ida, a writer taking her program from Norway realized that her most popular works were her children’s stories. She then created a marketing strategy that identified her ideal customer avatar – a mother with small children desperately hoping for just 10 minutes of alone time. Once she understood her client’s pain point, Ida recorded a reading she launched for free, available to anyone who would sign up for her newsletter. The result was astounding. She received 10,000 new subscribers – and helped many parents around the world.


Provide Value Vs Sell

Most brick and motor companies are facing issues ranging from not being able to meet demand because of panic buying to the opposite extreme of losing all revenue because customers are not legally allowed to go and buy their products. Advertisers in both of these cases would benefit from a “sensible course – to put money into long-term brand building because the role of that investment is for the recovery ” said Field. “ Now is the time to think outside the box, of ways we can remain human with our audience in a bid to help where help is needed,” he added.

Content for example is going to be important during this time because it is not about selling to the audience but providing answers to important questions they have.


“Brand health becomes vulnerable when companies stop advertising,” said Jane Ostler, Global Head of Media at Kantar Insights.


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Survey results from 900 UK marketers by Marketing Week and Eco-Consultancy reported that 55% of marketers have postponed or are reviewing ad campaigns and that 60% are cutting or adjusting budgets. Kantar’s data reported that this could be a long-term detriment to the brand. “The team found that if the brand cuts all its ad spend during the crisis, this could have a 13% impact on sales in the long run and make market share hard to recover. However, a 50% drop in ad spend could result in just a 1% drop in sales.” Data from BrandZ also shows that after the 2008/09 financial crash, stronger brands recovered up to nine times faster in terms of stock market value than others. Olster advises brands to change their media, messaging, and touchpoints to ensure they are reaching consumers with communications they are most interested in. Marketers should look at how budgets can be spent most effectively to maintain a presence and at

key brand metrics if spending does need to be reduced. “Hold your nerve,” Olster advises, “This will pass and we will be in a situation where things start to recover. Have a view on the longer term as well as the short-term.”


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