Brand Survival Kit: 5 Lessons for the Coming Recession

Businesses may not have seen Covid-19 coming, but the next phase of the crisis is all too easy to predict.

A recession. Most likely the biggest in any of our working lives.

What should brands do to survive? History has plenty to teach us about recessions and about the opportunities for brands to weather them, and even thrive.

We asked marketing guru Peter Field and Lemon author Orlando Wood to summarise their advice for how brands should invest and advertise during the coming downturn.

It’s well worth watching the whole webinar and downloading the deck. But here are five of the most important bits of advice.

1 - Plan for the recovery, not the recession

This will not be a “normal” recession. Generally downturns hit every sector roughly equally. In this one, the pain will be very unevenly spread. Some industries face harsh and radical change. But judging by previous pandemics, most consumer facing brands can expect a rapid partial recovery (as people return to work) then a slower full recovery. Shifting to survival mode (see Point 2) makes less sense.

2 - Avoid the short-termist temptation

In previous recessions – eg the 2008 Great Financial Crisis (GFC) – brands have entered “survival mode” with a shift of spend into short-term activation spending and away from brand-building. Early signs are that this is happening again. This is a mistake. One major reason is that the pendulum never swung back after the GFC – so brands are already underinvesting in long-term effectiveness. They never left survival mode – and doubling down on it won’t help now.

3 - Back your brand - and reap the rewards

Analysis of the GFC and the years either side of it reveals some important truths about recession advertising. Not only do brands who increase their Share of Voice in those years grow more and perform better, but relative to non-downturns they get more bang for their buck. The return on ESOV (Excess Share Of Voice) investment is greater during a downturn. In this particular recession, ESOV is cheaper than usual, as audiences (for some media) are higher. So advertising is an even better investment, and “going dark” an even bigger mistake, than usual.

4 - You don't always need new advertising

We’ve been analysing our Test Your Ad database throughout the crisis, and it’s generated some very useful insights about how well ads are working in the pandemic. The headline finding is that ads from before the crisis have not declined in effectiveness – your old material doesn’t alienate consumers, so if you can’t make new ads, keep using your earlier ones. We’ve also found out that on average the new ads brands have made test better than the old ones. But this is very unevenly distributed – some ads have performed much better but some much worse. So if you had a strong ad before Covid-19, you don’t need to scrap it and take that risk.

5 - Covid-19 ads don't have to be boring

If you do need to make a new ad, what should it be like? Not every Covid-19 ad is generic or dull, and there’s no reason yours has to be. The stuff that’s working is lively, focuses on enabling activity rather than preventing it, uses strong stories or Fluent Devices, makes its gratitude personal rather than abstract, and is fundamentally about giving, not just selling. It’s an approach designed to get the attention of the empathic, connection-seeking right brain, not the goal-oriented left. (Subscribe to our Ad Of The Week newsletter if you want a weekly showcase of what’s working.)

There’s a lot more in the webinar and deck. Thanks to Peter Field for taking time out to share his excellent advice with us and our listeners, and to every marketer – good luck. It’s going to be tough, but marketers that hold firm will come out stronger.

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