Business blogs and LinkedIn posts are quickly filling up with insights on how to market your business during a time of crisis.

The advertising industry has quickly dusted off its recession manuals, filled with great examples of why it pays in the long-run to keep marketing through a recession.

Listen to some of these voices, and you could be inclined to follow the stoic cliche and simply "keep calm and carry on" with what you were doing before.

This advice would only be half right.


The world we live in today isn't the same as it was four or even three weeks ago.

"I think all the learnings from previous recessions are misleading to a degree," says Rupert Price, the chief strategy officer at ad agency DDB.

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"A lot of those examples or case studies that people look to are over 12- to 18-month periods. And obviously, this crisis we're in at the moment has happened so quickly, so deep, so fast that there's nothing you can look at and say that that was an indicator of this."

Faced with this unprecedented drop in economic activity and massive uncertainty about what the future might hold, Price and his team commissioned research agency Pure Profile to conduct a study on what New Zealanders thought of companies advertising during this period.

The results delivered a few surprises.

When a panel of 800 New Zealanders were asked whether they wanted to hear from brands right now, a total 77 per cent said that they would.

"The thing that's really surprising is that that's above the norm," says DDB chief strategist Rupert Price.


"Under normal circumstances that question only delivers a 50 to 60 per cent response. So in these unpredictable times it appears that people want to hear more not less from brands."

Rupert Price is the chief strategy officer at DDB Group. Photo / File
Rupert Price is the chief strategy officer at DDB Group. Photo / File

Price says the study shows that people want to know that there are still organisations operating and that things will one day return to normal.

"If I'm still getting messages from brands and receiving familiar contacts that I'm used to that suggests to me that things can return to normal sometime soon, which is incredibly reassuring to people."

Whether an ad can be reassuring is up for debate, but there are few things that symbolise the banality of normal life quite as effectively as an advertisement.

An important insight from the research was that not all messages are received with equal enthusiasm.

"Our research showed that only 17 per cent wanted businesses to carry on [marketing] as normal," says Price.


"New Zealanders want businesses to acknowledge that we're in unprecedented and different times. They want businesses to show not only what they're doing for their customers but also what they're doing for their employees, for people at risk, for the elderly and the vulnerable. So, there's a much wider interest in what brands are doing, rather than just what they've got to sell."

Price stresses that this requires more than an insurance company randomly popping up in a social feed with information on how to wash your hands.

"The great examples that we're seeing are people like Chris Quinn, the CEO of Foodstuffs North Island, saying that Pak'nSave stores were helping people who had lost their jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry by offering them temporary work," says Price.

"That's clearly an active example of doing rather than just saying."

The research also showed that companies shouldn't veer away from promotions in the current climate.

Kiwis have always been deal hunters, spending $6 of every $10 on promotions, compared to the $4 spent by Australians, $3 by Brits and $2 by Germans.


This hasn't changed in the current context, and so it comes as little surprise that 71 per cent of respondents remained eager to hear about deals, offers and discounts.

This is particularly relevant at a time when money is tight, and consumers already have concerns that they might not be getting the prices they were accustomed to prior to the lockdown.

A study from independent pricing comparison site PriceSpy earlier this month showed there had been a 5 per cent increase across 108,000 products listed online.

In one particularly stark example a freezer that previously cost $949 on March 1 shot up to $1499 by March 31.

"There's certainly a sense that people feel there are fewer promotions around," says Price.

"Because a lot of retailers aren't active, people are starting to think that those deals aren't out there any more."


Price anticipates that this may change in the coming weeks as an increasing number of retailers are allowed to open their doors.

"I think there'll be a lot of promotional activity to incentivise people to come back to those businesses. And I think that will reassure people that competition is strong, and there will be deals and bargains to take advantage of."

Getting the message right

Before brands dive into a Covid-19 marketing campaign they need to take a few things into consideration, advises world-renowned marketing critic Mark Ritson, who is currently offering a bootcamp on marketing in these strange times.

"Two challenges confront companies at the moment," Ritson says.

"The first is one of content. The second is one of budget. In terms of content it's imperative that brands communicate in a manner that befits the current strange environment that surrounds consumers at present.

"It's imperative to avoid the overly emotive, 'we feel your pain' cliches but also to avoid continuing the pre-COVID19 campaigns that may have become irrelevant or inappropriate."


The light-hearted campaigns that were running before simply don't have a place in a restricted world where consumers face dire financial uncertainty.

The same applies to try-hard campaigns that try to capitalise on the fears all Kiwis currently feel.

Ritson also looks beyond the lockdown period at the recession looming on the horizon. This could linger for years and brands could be reluctant to splurge on marketing as they look to recover from the massive hit they have taken.

The mistake brands often make, argues Ritson, is that they see marketing as an expense rather than an investment.

He says companies that can afford to market should ensure that they keep communicating with consumers - provided they have a message worth sharing.

"The lessons of history are clear," he says.


"As the Post-COVID recession arrives the smart brands will not only maintain their advertising budgets - they will actually increase them. For a century the brands that increase their advertising during a downturn, while most reduce or stop their communications, re-appear significantly stronger in the post-recession decade that follows."

The question really depends on whether brands are willing to bet on themselves as they start climbing their way out of this giant economic hole.