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Don't Cancel Your (Marketing) Plans!

Marketing teams around the world were summarizing their Q1 campaign benchmarks, putting the finishing touches on their Q2 branding and advertising initiatives, and working on RFP documents for summer concepts. Everyone was looking ahead to developments in the field and trying to be the shop that put out the next “big thing” in marketing for 2020. Then they were faced with one of the most unique and challenging marketing asks of their careers, COVID-19. Today most marketers are left wondering “what do we do now?”

As our new reality set in, marketing experts scrambled to pull together tips and tricks to answer this question, referencing advice from the 2008 Recession all the way back to The Great Depression. While there are truly no “right answers,” there are things companies can do to stay relevant and have empathy towards a very nervous public … and it isn’t freezing your plans completely.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding what will happen next and the initial reaction to stop ad spending, history shows us that it is important to modify not cancel our plans. “In the aftermath of the last recession in 2008, ad spending in the U.S. dropped by 13%;” however, when looking back at four different recessions, some of today’s most popular brands defined themselves by staying the course. Before the Great Depression, “Post was the category leader in the “ready-to-eat cereal” industry. Feeling the effects of the recession, Post cut advertising spend, allowing Kellogg’s to buy up ad space and become the industry leader, a position it still holds to this day. The same situations are echoed by the actions of Toyota during the recession of 1973-1975, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in 1990-1991, and Amazon in 2009 (Forbes, 2019).

People may assume that today’s more socially conscious consumer has a different outlook than consumers of the past, but that assumption would be incorrect. In a March 2020 study, “COVID-19” Barometer,” Kantar found that 77 percent of respondents expect their brands to be helpful in what has become "the new everyday life." [And,] only 8 percent feel they should stop advertising (Ad Age).

Understanding consumer outlooks on advertising during a pandemic is the key for successfully updating a brand’s message. Fast Company’s Jeff Beer notes that several schools of thought exist around “crisis-specific advertising,” but it can be boiled down to three different categories:

1. The “We’re Doing Something” Ad

2. The “We Thought You Should Know” Ad

3. The “We’re Here for You” Ad

The overarching message of advice seems to be “you know your brand and what your brand means to consumers,” ensure you stay true to your identity in your new advertisements and most importantly, doing nothing to tailor your strategy is a mistake. Brands that come across tone deaf to the crisis will be remembered for their failure to execute a successful crisis-management plan.

How are you changing your campaigns to meet the public’s current mindset?


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