A Brand New Approach to Marketing

Global brands are rethinking their marketing and advertising strategies after many long-planned, carefully devised and heavily invested campaigns look hopelessly inappropriate during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Some brands have suspended marketing all together for commercial or social responsibility reasons, some are repurposing content and others are continuing with existing campaigns as they address a more captive audience. Imagery showing people socialising outside their homes looks out of touch, repurposing the Zoom call format for adverts is already looking cliched and the use of humour at such a tragic time is a more sensitive issue than ever.

A slump in revenues was behind Airbnb’s decision to suspend its marketing while Coca-Cola – which has seen volumes decline 25% globally since the beginning of April – has also paused marketing to consumers until ‘the timing is right’.

Some of Britain’s biggest gambling companies have pledged to remove all TV and radio advertising during the lockdown, not because of falling revenues, but prompted by their concern about a potential rise in problem gambling. These gambling companies will donate their TV advert slots to charities echoing a move by HSBC and the Co-op. Budweiser is diverting its planned sport and entertainment spend to non-profit organisations helping to combat coronavirus.

While still advertising, FMCG giant Unilever has switched its brand and marketing investment to the home, hygiene and skin cleansing brands in its portfolio. An advert for its Persil detergent brand featuring a child’s playground says: “For years we’ve encouraged you to get dirty outdoors. For now, we thank you for playing indoors.” Even the UK’s top cheese brand, Cathedral City, is marketing itself with #StayHome.

Businesses upping marketing spend unsurprisingly include Microsoft, Zoom and Slack which have seen a surge in demand for their video conferencing software. They see a huge ongoing opportunity, with work patterns likely to change post-lockdown, although that, combined with likely changes in consumer behaviour, will put new demands on many brands and how they are marketed.

While marketing budgets can be the first to be cut in difficult times, continuing some form of engagement during this epidemic seems to be favoured by many businesses and has brought some positive results.

Creative thinking has also been vital in enabling companies to repurpose existing material to make it more relevant, topical and sensitive. Some brands have also raised the ‘S’ in their ESG credentials by focusing their marketing on the ‘greater good’ – spotlighting front line workers, banks highlighting fraud issues and, as mentioned, many donating their advertising space to charities.

Of course, recent activity partly reflects spending that had already been committed and was therefore repurposed to be opportunistic or foregone to be altruistic. Spending for the rest of 2020 will be heavily curtailed with latest figures from the Advertising Association and WARC, the industry body, forecasting a 16.7%, £4.2 billion, drop in British advertising this year. With many businesses currently just focused on survival, preparing for marketing after lockdown is understandably not top of their priorities, but revenue will need to be rebuilt.

In the near term and amidst the likely constraints of reduced budgets, businesses will need to be more innovative, more necessary and more socially conscious in their marketing to resonate with customers.