How should brands respond to the Covid crisis? 

“How should we change our media spend and marketing strategy during the current crisis?” is a question most companies are asking themselves at the moment. A huge 67% of US brands and agencies are still undecided on spending in the second half of the year, according to a Nielsen Webinar I just attended, Adapting Advertising During COVID-19.

In this post, I share insights from the Nielsen webinar, along with brandgym learning from brands who seem to be responding well to the challenging world we’re all living in.

1. We need brands, more than ever

The crisis is creating a ‘pandemic paradox’ according to Nielsen. Companies are reducing marketing, with 69% making major cuts in Q2 2020 …. just when we’re all dramatically increasing our media consumption. In the US, people watched 18% to 29% more TV in mid April versus 2019, depending on age (below). There were 80 billion more minutes of streaming content during the same period. And sports fans, starved of live action, interacted 81% more on social media during this year’s NFL Draft. 

Net, we’re all desperate for ‘content’ and more than ever need brands to inform, entertain and provide some sense of normality. “There’s a value to society of not being seen to panic as a business,” suggested Peter Field in Marketing Week (1). “If all advertisers pull their money, consumer morale and business sentiment would suffer. [Going dark] would only add to the sense of crisis.”

2.Maintaining investment pays off

Maintaining marketing is of course not just about helping people beat lockdown boredom. There are also strong business arguments to keep investing, despite the temptation to hit the panic button (assuming you’re not in sector, like airlines and hotels, where conserving cash to simply survive is the priority).

 Continuing to invest in brand building pays off in the long term, according to WARC research quoted in the Nielsen webinar:

  • Brand equity: it takes 3-5 years to recover brand equity losses from extended ‘dark’ periods of no advertising 
  • Share gain: companies maintaining or increase ad spend gained +0.5% share points, vs. a 0.2pt decline for those decreasing 
  • Revenue: dropped -2% for every quarter with no media

One bold brand continuing to invest is natural energy drink Tenzing. Founder and CEO Huib van Bockel brought forward the launch of a new Blackberry & Açaí version, to respond to a need for more active drinks. “Since lockdown more people have taken up a new sport, exercise regime or fitness challenge,” he explains. “People need this drink now more than ever.” (2)  At the same time, Tenizing is also benefitting from a higher share of voice, as bigger rivals have cut back on marketing spend. 

3. Brands can ease the pain …

It’s been uplifting to see brands lending a helping hand to those in need during the crisis. Many companies have changed production to help health workers in a form of Covid-induced brand stretching, such as LVMH’s Christian Dior producing hand sanitiser.

Best of all in my book are brands who’ve focused on their core business to helped ease the pain. Sandwich shop Pret has delivered 477,000 food items to 138 charity partners and 40 hospitals, for example. More recently, 160 Pret Team Members volunteered to help reopen 10 London shops close to hospitals, to give frontline healthcare workers better access to freshly prepared food.

There are several benefits to this core brand focus:

  • You stay focused on what you do best
  • You can actively engage and involve employees 
  • You keep you core supply chain up and running 
  • You drive trial of your core product

4 …. brands can also entertain

We define brand purpose as simply ‘The positive and distinctive role a brand plays in improving everyday life.’ And whilst a social mission is one way of delivering your purpose, it’s not the only way. “Purpose isn’t necessarily about saving the planet. It doesn’t have to be worthy per se; it can be about small and meaningful actions,” observed Stephan Loerke, of the World Federation of Advertisers. 

So, whilst brands can ease the pain, they can also entertain and uplift us. Cadbury Dairy Milk’s new campaign in India is an example from our brandgym partner there, Prasad Narasimhan.

The campaign celebrates how ‘Every home tells a sweet story’, showing Indians celebrating the little joys of life under lockdown, nicely bringing to life the global brand idea we posted on hereThere’s a Glass & a Half in Everyone. 17 million view on YouTube in two weeks shows how this film has met the consumer needs for uplifting messages.

The brand has also launched a limited-edition version pack replacing ‘Dairy Milk’ with ‘Thank You’, to highlight the country’s spirit and generosity amid the pandemic. Created in 8 different languages, these bars express gratitude to Indians across the length & breadth of the country – truly chicken-soup for the Covid soul.

5. Actions speak louder than words

Inspiring brand communication is good but brand actions speak louder than words, with Brew Dog a great example. The beer brand has created a virtual bar where you can share a beer online, take part in virtual pub quizzes or homebrew masterclasses and win merchandise. This brand activation has helped bored beer lovers who are locked out of their local pub, but also helped the brand: brand perceptions were up +4.6 points in March and top of beer and cider brand rankings in terms of ‘buzz’, according to YouGov BrandIndex

In conclusion, Helen O’Dowda, Group Marketing Manager at Moriarty Group, summed up perfectly how brands can respond in these crazy times, in a recent interview (1): “Now’s the time to remain human and help where help is needed, being a voice of reason and consistency in a time of uncertainty …. and coming out on top when the crisis subsides.”