What is the role of marketing and communications in a global crisis and how does advertising fit in?

Date posted: 21 Apr 2020

Posted by: Sarah Coften

Post category: Insights

Business leaders and those of us in the marketing and advertising profession are under a lot of pressure to steer the tiller now and in the months ahead. Navigating our way out of the global crisis presented by Covid-19, is taking us all into uncharted waters and back to the drawing board. To get through this we must make use of hard lessons and precedents set from times gone by.

This is the time to remain resolute and remember the fundamentals of our core purpose and function:

  • Awareness of who we are and effectively communicate our core values among our target audience(s)
  • Strengthen experience of the brand among our target audience(s)
  • Differentiate ourselves and communicate clearly what we do well
  • Give tangible product related information to our target audience
  • Stimulate demand and increase sales

In a nutshell the role of what we do in the face of the coronavirus doesn’t change, it simply becomes more important to get right and we must endeavour to continue to communicate what we do and what we stand for. In doing so we must continue to build brand awareness, recognition, confidence and preference for our brands among our target audience(s).   

How does advertising fit in?

The situation presented by the Coronavirus is impacting consumer mobility causing distinctive shifts in media consumption habits that need to be considered right now. However, they need to be considered within the context of changes in consumer demand and perceptions of global supply chains and as we go on longer into this lockdown period the immediate cuts in disposable household income needs to be acknowledged. This means that advertising needs to respond to these conditions and elevate above basic sales tactics. We must communicate and present the answer to the challenge in a way that’s authentic. I would say at this time avoid ALL tactical sales messages in solus but run them as part of an integrated brand response approach – there is room for both.

So with the economy retracting in the short term, can you and should you build a brand in these conditions?

IPA 2008 Recession

Peter Field co-author of the ‘Long & Short of It’ (Binet & Field) reminds us of the lessons learnt in the 2008 downturn. He says ‘Going dark’ by pulling all brand advertising brings the real risk of permanently weakened business performance. Peter Field’s analysis of IPA cases in the 2008 recession found that businesses that invested during the recession saw long term profit growth. This is not the first time that this trend has presented itself – Vaile noticed the same trends researching the fortunes of 250 firms during and following the 18-month recession in 1920-21. His results demonstrated that companies that increased their ad budgets during the recession grew sales much faster than their rivals – not only during the downturn but also beyond it.

Sales During a Recession 1920-23

So why should you advertise now? To remain front of mind, build brand preference and demonstrate your brands agility to develop distribution channels and products that fit with consumer needs in these most challenging times and drive long term growth. Peter Field advocates a 50:50 ratio of Brand (Awareness) to Response (Activation & Sales) advertising in a downturn.  

Who is advertising right now? And what are they saying?

Fairy Liquid Advert in Recession

Fairy washing up liquid are running a brand building campaign online ‘For an Effortless Clean’, which I am seeing running across ‘foodie’ content on my devices (mobile and desktop).

I am being served impressions at a frequency of ~4-6 which is optimal for online brand advertising for FMCG, that has no Ecomm direct sales channel available from the brand direct to consumer. For reasons I don’t have to state this is the perfect time for cleaning and antibacterial products to build a brand and drive preference and sales.

EE mobile have launched a raft of communications to reassure existing customer that they are there for them including special measures such as not charging data to any of its customers when accessing an NHS website and launching an unlimited data service for all its customers who work for the NHS to show their appreciation and help them stay in touch with family at this difficult time.

EE Mobile NHS Coronavirus Advert

The EE.CO.UK/NHS campaign saw the TV ad campaign launch on 09 April 2020 and was supported by Video On Demand and online media including paid social.

The Tesco campaign ‘Every Little Helps’ strap line illustrates how agile this brand strapline is at this time. The current campaign continues to use the strapline with an emphasis ‘Some little helps for safer shopping’ and drives home the message that ‘Every little helps, now, more than ever”.

Tesco Every Little Helps COVID-19

The importance of ensuring that messaging reflects the safety measures that brands put in place to protect their customers will be increasingly paramount as we move forwards from lockdown and work towards a business as usual situation for the sake of our economy.

Who could and should be advertising now?

Retailers, large and small, are shifting their budgets from OOH, experiential and instore to ecommerce, to enable sales to continue via their established ecommerce platforms or social media platforms for hyper local micro businesses.

Home and Garden products are also in high demand, as we spend all our time at home, home improvements are front of mind and we are finding the time and money as we need to complete projects and increase our well-being through our own endeavours.

Hobbies, interests, entertainment and fitness brands are also on the rise as we need to stimulate our bodies and minds to stay healthy and get through this. Whether the challenge is finding a shared interest and experience across different ages groups of siblings or something for empty nesters to do as they are not able to spend time with their adult children and grandchildren. The demand for projects and things to do at home has never been higher.

There is an opportunity for some brands in food and beauty categories to grow their own sales channel direct with consumers. Whereas previosly they were reliant on on third party websites or bricks n mortar retail sites at a higher cost. Changing consumer habits and building direct relationships will yeild higher margin sales and profitability longer term if garnered well.

If possible should we advertise now? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Linear broadcast TV is seeing a huge upswing in audience numbers across all demographics with the largest increase among Generation X (38-56 years Old). Online media consumption is also on the rise with every demographic increasing their online time by more than 30% across different online channels (video, news, podcasts and social).

We have seen an increase in digital spend, for some brands as much as 1000% since the middle of March. Online advertising offers advantages of brand saliency and sales activation in this unique time. Online media; display and video served programmatically is an indicator for all other media channels. This plus the resurgent interest in TV for some advertisers and wide trading deals available across the marketplace provides a value opportunity for brands in the marketplace now.

With confident navigation and a collaborative approach to advertising and media those companies that can pivot quickly and rethink their direction of travel, without taking short cuts or going against the tide of sentiment. Those that work within the boundaries presented by consumer attitudes and current challenges, can harness the opportunity for themselves to help future-proof their business and kick start long term growth in this period. Changing strategy and reviewing tactics while putting your sails up, will bring about the momentum as the winds pick up and propel you forward. Planning your execution now means you can capitalise on any upswing the moment it happens, and you aren’t left behind the curve when it does.

Actions to take now:

Evaluate what you are doing and have done across all paid and owned tactics in the past 18 months across all markets / products. Review your marketing mix and make significant changes in line with changes in consumer behaviour and demand for your products and services. Work with a media agency that will give you an honest opinion and work with you to find pockets of success from your previous activity and throw overboard what has slowed you down.

Pivoting quickly is key to success. For example:

  • A change in strategy cascades down to a change in tactics and measurement (i.e. KPIs such as footfall and become online visits and goals).  
  • Would you be comfortable with online placements sitting alongside news content right now? Controlling the brand safety of your ad placement is key and a reasonable request of your media planning and buying agency. 
  • Tone of voice is much discussed; how do we get it right? Be honest right now e.g. don’t sell with outdoor and travel lifestyle images if you are a fashion brand and your consumers are in lockdown
  • Ask yourself is the campaign message right given the context of the situation right now. Creative challenges will abound when you look at your image bank of groups of people at large gatherings outdoors but don’t despair speak to your media agency.

These are challenges we can overcome through resilience and pragmatism – we can help you evaluate your current and past media strategy and build an approach with a paid media platform that will garner future growth and commercial success.

What happens next? Are we to be led by consumer behaviour or should we look to drive change by shaping perceptions and bringing about confidence and therefore increasing our chances of recovering more quickly? Your hands are on the tiller!

Smithfield Agency are a full-service media planning and buying agency and can solve any of your marketing and advertising challenges from business planning; market sizing and segmentation, media and advertising strategy with planning and buying that joins the dots. We also rise to your creative challenges and can bring you together with our independent creatives who can repurpose still imagery into TV ads or online banners or video for rich media or pre-roll. First things first, do you know who your best customers are and how best to reach them. We would love to hear from you and help you through these unchartered waters.

Please email sarahc@smithfieldagency.co.uk if you would like to find out more about how we can help you right now.

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