The vast majority of consumers do not think brands need to stop advertising during the Covid-19 outbreak, although they do expect companies to think about their tone and messaging, and communicate around values.

A survey of more than 35,000 consumers globally by Kantar found that just 8% thought brands should stop advertising. However, there is a clear expectation that companies should play their part, with 78% of consumers believing brands should help them in their daily lives, 75% saying brands should inform people of what they’re doing and 74% thinking companies should not exploit the situation.

There is a high level of agreement that brands should use a reassuring tone, offer a positive perspective and communicate brand values. More than 50% also think brands should talk as they have always have done, while 50% think companies should talk about their own brand in a carefree and light way.

Just 41% think brands should avoid humorous tones.

The research throws up some examples of the fine line brands need to tread. For example, Ikea’s communications focused on the importance of home and Nike’s messaging around the current need to stay indoors are seen as supportive of government messaging and health organisations, while staying true to their brand values.

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However, there has been a mixed response to BrewDog’s hand sanitiser launch. While on the one hand many applauded the move, there was some cynicism around its heavy use of branding, leading it to be seen as self-serving by some.

“That gives a sense of how delicate the balance is at the moment,” says Kantar Insights chief innovation officer, Rosie Hawkins. “There is a need to talk about brands, but to do so in a way that supports governments and consumers and is not exploitative.”

Consumers are also looking for explicit evidence that brands are supporting staff, the government and consumers. Almost 80% believe employee health should be a key priority for companies, while almost two-thirds believe flexible working should be a priority.

Some 45% of consumers want to see companies putting in place plans to protect the supply of services or products, while more than 40% want to see companies making donations of products, such as hand sanitisers or face masks.

Only 30% want to see brands offering discounts and promotions, and 19% want to see them setting up call centres to help with customer queries. This suggests consumers understand the difficult position many companies find themselves in.

Marketing for the longer term

Despite the survey results, many companies are pulling ad campaigns and reviewing ad budgets. A survey of almost 900 UK marketers by Marketing Week and Econsultancy found that 55% have postponed or are reviewing ad campaigns, while 60% are cutting or reviewing budgets.

The Kantar data finds, however, that this could be to the long-term detriment of the brand. It ran a theoretical test on an unnamed, but real beer brand. The team found that if the brand cut all its ad spend during the crisis, this would have a 13% impact on sales in the long run and make market share hard to recover. However, a 50% drop in ad spend would result in just a 1% drop in sales.

Data from BrandZ also shows that after the 2008/09 financial crash, stronger brands recovered up to nine times faster in terms of stock market value than others.

“Brand health becomes vulnerable when companies stop advertising,” says Kantar Insights global head of media, Jane Ostler. “If they do this for longer than six months it destroys both short- and long-term health.”

Instead, she advises brands to change their media, messaging and touchpoints to ensure they are reaching consumers with communications they are most interested in. Marketers should look at how budgets can be spent most effectively to maintain a presence and key brand metrics if spend does need to be reduced.

“Hold your nerve,” she concludes. “This will pass and we will be in a situation where things start to recover. Have a view on the longer term as well as the short-term.”

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