Cost & Effect : Why Pandemic Marketing is your New Cash Cow

Thought Leadership|

Yes, you read that right. No, it isn’t click bait. It’s hard data. With weakened cash flows, erratic consumer behaviors, and the overwhelming skepticism of global economists, the idea of marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic seems laughable. It’s a common misconception (and a far too frequent mistake) that your marketing dollars and messaging strategies are expendable. The trouble is, if you want to retain your customers, they have to know you’re there.

It’s time to rethink the basics of money-in/money-out by prioritizing the brand-building effects of marketing costs — and industry leaders agree. Nathan Hall, member of the Forbes Ad Council, summarized sales indicators across 100 years of cultural and economic insecurity. A few of our top takeaways include:

  •   “In 1927, Harvard Business Review uncovered that companies that maintained their investment in branding and marketing through the Great Depression came out 20% ahead of how they went into the recession […]
  •   McGraw Hill Research studied 600 B2B companies in the 1980s and found that those that doubled down on building their brand and advertising grew 275% more than those that did not.
  •   Cahners Publishing Company found that advertising during a recession leads to, on average, a 1.5x increase in market share. But more interestingly, during economic boom periods, they saw that 80% of businesses invested in advertising, but saw little to no movement in market share.”*

Let’s dig into that last one a bit. 80% of ad spend generated little to no market movement during positive economies. Ouch. Key metrics and benchmarks aside, that’s a low blow to any team’s self-esteem. If you can’t make movement in times when consumers are spending freely, how can you possibly cope with today’s necessities-first mindset? The answer is marketing. Sure, pushing cheap flights during a travel ban is tone-deaf and dismissive, and other sectors (such as luxury brands and non-essentials) need to switch from product-push to emotional support, but staying top of mind will keep you at the top of their wallets, as well.

Andrew Frank, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner, Inc., explains. As the U.S. began its lockdown in March, he was quoted in an article discussing the new do’s and don’ts of marketing. “Some sectors, however, ‘might have a case for increasing media spending,’ Frank said, pointing to movie studios planning digital releases […] Retailers with ecommerce sites are also keen to let consumers know that they’re open for business, even though their brick-and-mortar locations are not.”** While we completely agree (and recently helped Tanger Factory Outlet Centers plan and produce their Fall 2020 campaign) we urge our clients to proceed with caution. This isn’t a quick switch or a fix-it-all cash dump. With digital marketing and online/on-air ad spend taking centerstage, reassessing your message and understanding your customers’ needs have never been more important.

Speaking of messaging, it’s important to note that humor, levity and humanity still have their place in your content. Interestingly, the prevalence of doomscrolling seems to have provoked consumers to shift their attitudes toward ads. Irene Joshy, regional head of Creative at Kantar, spoke with WARC^ about this pandemic-driven pivot. She wrote, “Research shows that 92% of consumers believe brands need to keep advertising. In fact, inundated by round the clock news of COVID-19, consumers welcome ads as a form of distraction and entertainment, giving them a certain sense of normalcy.”*** Knowing what your consumers need to hear, and when, is the foundation of any successful campaign strategy — as we seek to restore balance (to cash flow and also our daily routines), treating audiences as people first, and consumers second, will make or break your post-pandemic comeback.

Ready to rethink your marketing approach during COVID-19? Just email Vince, our VP of Business Development.



* Hall, Nathan. “Marketing Through Mayhem[…].” Forbes, Forbes Media LLC, 29 June, 2020,

** Schiff, Allison. “The Dos And Don’ts Of Marketing During A Global Crisis.” Ad Exchanger, Access Intelligence, LLC, 19 March, 2020,

*** Joshy, Irene. “In a time of COVID-19, to advertise or not to advertise?.” WARC^, Ascential Events (Europe) Limited, 17 April, 2020,


Share your thoughts