Be brave. In difficult times, your consumers need you, says Carl Carter, Head of Marketing Strategy at IRI.

The most common question I’ve been asked by brands in the past two weeks is: “Should we continue to invest in advertising during the coronavirus outbreak, when so many people are isolated?” Just this week, Marketing Week’s own figures show that many marketers are delaying their campaigns during this time.

The truth is, none of us really know the answer but I can’t help but feel that for consumer brands this is the time to show that your brand matters. During times of uncertainty and hardship, we look for support, reassurance and even entertainment from brands we trust. It’s in uncertain times when we’ll need and remember you the most.

One of the biggest challenges for brands today is to stand out, to create positive perceptions and create those strong connections that make us choose one brand over another. When marketers cut back on their ad spending, brands lose “share of mind” with consumers, with the potential of losing current – and possibly future – sales.

And actually, it seems, consumers are optimistic about the power of brand advertising for good. According to research from the Advertising Association, 42% of people still believe ads can change the world. Many consumers feel that during difficult times advertising can drive positive social change. Brands who reflect their values and are seen as responsible, or supportive, during adversity can creating emotional connections and build trust with their consumers that will last beyond the current climate.

Build loyalty during times of adversity

As we all move into what is the most significant event of our lifetime with the Covid-19 pandemic, triggering self-isolation, social distancing and panic buying, I personally find myself drawing parallels to other times of global uncertainty and unrest. Of course, the enemy today is very different from that in times of war, but the parallel is worthy of exploration.

So many of the brands we know and love today built strong customer loyalty during times of adversity.

In 1941, America entered World War II and thousands of US citizens were sent overseas. To show support for the brave service men and women, Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff ordered that “every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company”.

In the 1920s, the Post brand was the USA’s category leader in ready-to-eat cereal. But during the Great Depression, Post significantly cut back its advertising budget, while rival Kellogg’s doubled its advertising spend, investing heavily in radio and introducing a new cereal. That cereal was called Rice Krispies, featuring the now famous “Snap,” “Crackle” and “Pop.” Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% and the company became the cereal category leader, a position it maintained for decades. Regardless of the extremity of the situation, brand advertising continued and brand identity, context and visual cues were forged through consistent exposure to consumers across newspapers, posters and at point of purchase; tenets which have become the cornerstone of marketing and advertising for brands throughout the decades since.

The sanity keepers

As we all move into a more confusing, isolated and restricted state, the convergence of modern life and more primitive living will likely meet. Our digital tools become pivotal to not only access key information, shopping and work tasks but also our entertainment and as sanity keepers. For brands and advertisers this represents a significant increase in opportunities to present advertisement and make connections.

It is at this junction that the decision becomes clearer for so many brands. As consumers we are all in a heightened state of need, so comfort and luxury take on different meaning and many of us will become more open and receptive to new stimuli. Over the coming weeks, we will all likely be much more exposed to all forms of media whether that be traditional channels such as TV and radio through to social, online publications and video.

If we consider the fundamentals of advertising for consumer brands – such as driving reach, grabbing attention, focussing on brand salience and relevance to the needs of the consumer, then most brands should consider this their optimal time to invest in advertising.

Changed forever?

Even though these are unprecedented times, patterns and consumer actions that develop today could eventually cause a shift in long term behaviour. Brave moves now, might make sense for your business in the longer term.

So, in response to that pertinent question from my clients I would say, seize this moment. Be brave, be bold, be on brand and remember your consumers need you. And if it isn’t you, then it will be someone else.

Use this time to support your consumer and build an emotional connection with them based on your core values and they may well reward you with loyalty long after this predicament is over.

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