Act, when you can’t advertise
Published on 06 Apr 2020

The received wisdom is that brands can spend themselves out of a crisis. The brands that keep investing in a downturn come out of it faster and stronger. However, most CFOs will understandably not be very susceptible to this argument right now. So what can brands do instead? Act on your purpose, when you can’t advertise. The brands that act will become meaningful and memorable; they can become hero brands.


Sir Martin Sorrell says that “those arguing brands should spend their way through a recession are talking nonsense this time”. He expects marketing services to take a hit in the short term. (Campaign, April 2, 2020). He sees budget cuts and a shift to digital. The one exception? “Socially beneficial or purpose-driven programmes”. This might seem counter-intuitive, but when you consider the economic value of brand purpose it really isn’t.


It pays to act on your purpose

Brands represent 20% of a company’s value. From the Meaningful Brands research done by Havas Media, it has become clear that 30% of brand strength is defined by a brand’s societal contribution. In the current crisis, we can expect this to become even more important. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people are expecting brands to contribute in the time to come. 65% expect that how brands respond to the corona crisis will impact their purchase behaviour in the near future. 37% say they have already started using a new brand because of the positive way it has responded. If you think of a brand’s societal contribution as a Category Entry Point, one that is becoming increasingly important, then now is the time to act on it.


Pick your battle

To make sure you do this in a way that is consistent with your brand and deeply relevant, start from your brand archetype and define the particular foe you want to help people battle in the immediate crisis and the recession looming ahead.


What is your purpose, what are you fighting against and how can you put this into practice right now, with the means at your disposal? If it is Nike’s purpose to “expand human potential”, how can they help people overcome the negative effects of inactivity now that everyone is confined to their homes? Their immediate response shows that they understand their role perfectly, the next step is to act on it. In the Netherlands, the family food brand Honig has initiated Live Eat, an online dinner event to raise money for food banks, who are running low on supplies and cannot support the families that depend on them. This fits perfectly with Honig’s mission to get people to eat together, to fight against people being excluded from better health and human connections.


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You should even consider dedicating the advertising budget you still have to what you can do and contribute. 82% of consumers say they approve of brands advertising their COVID-19 response and how they are helping customers, according to the latest research from GlobalWebIndex. Our media habits have already adjusted to the new situation. We are watching more TV and spending more time on social media. Exactly the media to make an emotional connection and to gather people to your cause.


Acting on your purpose right now is not only the right thing to do. It makes excellent business sense too.