Three Rules for Advertising during a Crisis


It’s been nearly a month since life as we know it was turned upside down in America. Widespread closures and government-mandated quarantine protocols have created an environment that is, to put it lightly, less-than-ideal for businesses of all sizes and industries.

With decreased revenues and reduced customer access, many companies have looked to trim all non-essential costs in order to make payroll. In many cases, marketing budgets have been the victim of these adjustments.

A national crisis isn’t typically accounted for when strategizing a business plan, so it’s understandable why there are pervasive questions and uncertainty. Although we have rarely seen an event with the magnitude we’re experiencing today, there is some precedent when it comes to how to proceed with marketing during a period of economic downturn. In addition, new methods are being discovered and refined on a daily basis in 2020.

In this article, I’ll lay out examples from the past and data from the present that shows what you need to be considering in your advertising strategy.


1.      Focus on Market Share over Revenue

While the majority of businesses scramble to keep sales numbers from falling off completely in the short-term, perhaps the best plan is to play the long game. By that, I mean focus on gaining ground while advertising prices are low.

The coronavirus might be a new challenge, but recession-like economic climates are not. Historical examples can help shed some light on what the best course of action is for businesses and advertisers.

The most famous (or infamous) of all the economic crises in American history is the Great Depression. As the companies scraped together what little money they had to stay afloat, cereal company Kellogg saw an opportunity. By stepping up advertising efforts while rival company Post stepped back, they increased their market share by 30% when the economy bounced back.

For more examples of businesses that came out of a financial crisis stronger than before, check out this article from Forbes.

Now, I would be remiss to ignore the fact that most businesses don’t have the budget of a Post or Kellogg. But to be fair, most businesses prioritize their local markets more than a national presence.

Aside from simply staying top-of-mind, maintaining ad campaigns during crisis gives the appearance of stability and brand strength. It’s important to give let customers know you aren’t going anywhere.

Yes, it’s important to maximize your budget’s efficiency during a difficult financial period, but taking a risk when other businesses are playing it safe can pay off big time in the future. Advertising prices across the digital space have lowered, and now is the time to set the stage for a comeback once things return to normal.


2.      Get Creative

The messaging and the mediums may differ, but creativity is the heart and soul of impactful advertising. As the saying goes, “The best ideas are born out of necessity.”

After looking at a historical example in rule number one, I’ll bring things back to the present. The coronavirus environment we currently inhabit is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Ask a 65-year-old and they’ll likely tell you it’s the most unusual thing that has happened in their lifetime. What does all that mean? A blank canvas for creatively-driven marketers to create a masterpiece!

Businesses who rely on customer foot traffic have had to find develop new ways to distribute their products and services. One prime example is local company West Side Brewing. They decided that if people can’t physically come enjoy their beer, they’ll bring it to them!

Another important component of any effective marketing campaign is the medium through which the message is presented. The current situation we find ourselves in has led to massive increases in digital consumption. Because this is the first major crisis in the digital age (sorry 2008, we weren’t there quite yet), there were still some unknowns as to what the actual numbers would be.

Unsurprisingly, video streaming spiked as people were spending more time indoors. Believe it or not, Tiger King is not the only thing people have been watching! Similarly, time spent on various social media platforms has increased as well. What does all this mean for marketers? Reaching your audience is easier than you might think.

From live-streaming fitness classes to virtual concerts taking place in musicians’ living rooms, the virtual reality we’re living in has opened the door to new methods of creating content. If you’re putting together a strategy to keep your brand relevant, moving money to the digital advertising space seems like not only the best choice, but the only choice.


3.      Manage the present, sell the future

Brands in the food and service industries have been hit hardest by the stay-at-home orders that have been mandated in nearly every state. Carryout and delivery might help keep places in business, but it’s only a temporary fix.

As the weeks continue to pass by, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel – but it will eventually be over. The businesses that are able to position themselves favorably during this time will be primed for a sales boom when people are let out of their houses for the first time in a long time.

It can be hard to think about the future when the present is so uncertain. With that being said, if history is any indication, fortune favors the bold.

Don’t be afraid to take risks that feel a bit like gambling on what will happen two, three, and four months down the road. Investing in your business now could pay major dividends down the road. This reality can’t be ignored and business owners shouldn’t focus on the cost of advertising now, but the cost of not advertising now.


Moving Forward

There’s no debating that the last couple of months have been an unprecedented experience for businesses and consumers. What is known, though, is that businesses who view tough periods as an opportunity for growth can pass up the competition.

As the old adage goes, “When times are good you should advertise, when times are bad you MUST advertise.”