What should marketing look like during a crisis?


It’s something all Marketing teams have probably wrestled with over recent weeks. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, how should firms be marketing themselves?

What’s appropriate at the current time?

Should companies change their marketing and communications as a result of the pandemic?

How should firms market themselves during the coronavirus crisis?

An article from CNBC, written on 27 March, was titled ‘Acts not ads”: How firms should market themselves during the coronavirus crisis.

Although the end of March may feel a long time ago in terms of the approaches countries are taking to the pandemic, the ‘acts not ads’ stance seems to have endured for many brands. Tammy Einav, CEO of ad agency adam&eveDDB, interviewed by CNBC, cited U.K. supermarkets giving healthcare workers dedicated shopping time as an example of this.

Getting your messaging right

The article suggested that ‘Brand promotion might not seem like the best idea during the coronavirus crisis’, with Ian Henderson, chief executive of ad agency AML Group pointing out that ‘There’s a very fine line between being helpful and flogging stuff on the back of a crisis’.

Using filters like ‘is it appropriate?’ and ‘might it upset people?’ was very much in evidence as the pandemic unfolded.

Many firms shifted their advertising to focus on the ways they are helping consumers during the crisis – retailers and utilities firms, among others, taking this approach.

Media, as well as messages, are changing

Alongside the shift in advertising messages, there have been changes in the media advertisers are prioritising.

More time spent at home and online is increasing the opportunities people have to see advertising. Businesses have therefore started to shift their outdoor and event-led media budgets to TV and digital advertising.

If this is something you plan, it’s worth remembering that, if you’re regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, its rules around advertising are platform-neutral, as applicable online as in print or television adverts.

And any firm, whether governed by an industry regulator or not, falls under the remit of the ASA and CAP. The Advertising Standards Authority polices and enforces advertising standards set by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which makes the rules for advertising in the UK.

Their rules around marketing and advertising compliance are also platform-neutral – meaning they apply equally across any channel used. We explored this recently in our blog on the rules you need to follow when you advertise on new platforms.

Practical considerations

Any firm that does want to continue with advertising will face some practical hurdles. No longer able to organise photo shoots in the traditional way, firms are taking resourceful approaches to creative, using directors and animators who can work from home, for example, or encouraging staff to participate in home-filmed campaigns shot during lockdown.

The impact on advertising and marketing budgets

Some advertisers are looking to cut ad spend indefinitely. Others are more optimistic and shifting spend to later in the year in anticipation of recovery from the pandemic, in tandem with pent-up consumer demand that may help them to recover lost sales.

Mark Ritson, writing in Marketing Week, suggested this week that brands should be upping rather than cutting their budgets in response to the crisis and the predicted recession to follow.

Regulated firms may have an advantage

When it comes to appropriate marketing, regulated financial services firms may actually be at an advantage.

The filters that adverts and marketing communications already need to go through to comply with the FCA’s financial promotions rules mean that your promotions already follow a rigorous review and approvals process to ensure they are compliant.

They already need to meet strict rules around suitability, fair treatment of customers and ensuring that promotions are clear, fair and not misleading. This may help you with the ‘filters’ of appropriateness and helpfulness that many firms are just starting to apply in response to Covid-19.

Free checklist: make sure your financial promotions follow the rules

Advertising and marketing in the current climate can be a minefield, even before you take into account specific regulatory requirements. Hopefully, for firms regulated by the FCA, the compliance constraints you already work under mean you are already skilled at creating content that’s both creative and compliant.

To make sure your marketing meets regulatory demands as well as social preferences, you can download a copy of our financial promotions checklist for marketing. The checklist is free and you can get your copy from our resource library.

Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.

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