Why you should advertise during a downturn, and how to do it right

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic means most nonessential companies are experiencing furloughs and deep cuts throughout their departments. One strategy to save money may be to cut advertising spending while revenue is down. In fact, ad spending dropped 13% during the 2008 recession. But as tempting as it may be, in the long run your company will lose ground while others pick up your market share. 
Consider the Great Depression in the early 20th century — one of, if not the most severe economic downturns in American history — and the advertising response by the cereal business. Post Consumer Brands largely cut back on advertising, while Kellogg’s doubled its spending. As a result, Kellogg’s profits increased by 30%.
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How to advertise effectively

1. Examine how you can (or already do) meet the new needs of your audience

Giving up your share of voice means giving up your share of the market. If you don’t advertise at all, then consumers will not be poised to return to your brand once the economic gears begin turning again. What services do you offer that are pertinent right now? Could your business offer pick-up and delivery? Does your business offer nontangible services that can be used while many are working remotely? Assess your audience for their needs right now, and let them know that you can fill them.

2. If you can’t advertise your products, advertise your brand

Even if your sales numbers have fallen and your products may lean more toward “discretionary,” you have something highly important to promote: yourself. Continuing to advertise will present a stable image to consumers during unstable times, and if other companies pull back on advertising, you won’t have to fight through the “noise” of category advertising. Promote your company and brand by creating campaigns reflective of your business values, and you will stay top of mind among the consumers who will eventually return to your company. You may even gain some new ones. 

3. Emphasize humanity and generosity

We’re all facing trying times, and consumers need your brand to strike a positive leadership note. Ask yourself, “What can we do?” — and then do it. Customers will remember which company filled food pantries in their community, donated supplies to hospitals, fed truckers or helped construction workers or farmers.

4. Revisit your messaging mix

Now is the time to adjust your media mix of brand, product and promotional messaging. Lean on brand messaging more heavily. If you have retail locations, clearly communicate changes in hours as well as measures being taken to ensure the safety of store visitors. Product and promotional messaging is still important: Remember that even if some consumers are not buying right now, they are researching for future purchases. Don’t go dark when it’s an opportunity for your brand to shine while your competitors fade.


It’s time to think long-term. Invest in your brand to maintain business momentum. By continuing to advertise, you’ll keep top of mind among consumers, especially when other companies may choose not to advertise.
Helping impacted communities will not only make the lives of many people easier during this difficult time, but customers will remember your brand with a positive association that will facilitate long-term growth and will be with you far longer than the downturn caused by the coronavirus.
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