Marketing in a Recession: Advertising and Branding During an Economic Downturn

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Many companies are quick to reduce marketing budgets and ad spend when a decline in economic activity leads to a recession. But advertising during a recession offers organizations an opportunity to increase brand awareness and capture market share. This can lead to a tremendous return when the economy recovers.

Why You Should Keep Advertising During a Recession

Maintaining or even increasing your marketing budget during tough economic times offers several opportunities to remain profitable in the short term and grow as the economy recovers. We often recommend that brands maintain their advertising budgets during a recession knowing that:

Advertising Costs Drop During Recessions

During a recession, you might get more bang for your buck! Recession advertising costs are typically lower than in peak economic conditions, with media prices declining along with demand. During the 2008 recession, ad spend decreased across all media markets:

  • Newspaper ads: -27%
  • Radio ads: -22%
  • Magazine ads: -18%
  • Television ads: -5%
  • Online/digital ads: -2%

This creates an opportunity to maintain or even increase ad spend on proven channels. Some brands find success expanding on new channels or targeting secondary audiences.  

Your Messaging is More Impactful

With ad spend down, most product categories have less “noise.” Fewer competing narratives, product launches and campaigns can make your advertising more memorable.

Some brands find success making big product or service announcements during a recession. For example,  Amazon successfully launched the Kindle during some of the most challenging days of the Great Recession in 2009.

Advertising Communicates Value to Customers

Marketing can also support a changing business strategy during a recession, which often involves adjusting prices. Effective advertising can help brands that adopt short-term pricing changes reach customers effectively, capture market share and encourage long-term customer loyalty.

What Happens When Brands Keep Marketing Through a Recession?

There’s historical evidence that brands that continue to market during a recession tend to recover more quickly and grow faster when the economy rebounds. These recession marketing examples illustrate the lasting benefits of spending when others put their wallets away.

Kellogg vs. Post in The Depression

In the 1920s, Michigan-based cereal company Kellogg was a relative upstart behind the industry’s most successful brand, Post. As the Depression worsened, Post made significant cuts to its marketing budget. In response, Kellogg more than doubled its print and radio spending, including relying heavily on radio spots to launch its newest creation, Rice Krispies.

Kellogg’s profits increased 30% and surpassed Post as an industry leader – a title it has held for nearly 100 years.

McDonald’s in the 90s

During the 1990 recession, McDonald’s cut ad spend to save money and ride it out. Two of its fledgling competitors, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, kept spending steady across advertising and promotional efforts. When the economy recovered, Pizza Hut’s sales increased by 61%, with Taco Bell improving revenue by 40%. McDonald’s saw sales decline by 28%.

It was a lesson Ronald McDonald wouldn’t let the execs forget. The brand was one of the few companies that grew during the 2008 recession, benefiting from its value-focused menu at a time when families needed affordable fare. The company grew in 2008, with sales exceeding both 2006 and 2007, before the financial impact was felt worldwide.

How to Market During a Recession

Marketing during an economic downturn requires brands to leverage all available channels effectively. There’s no universal recession playbook for marketers. You’ll need to utilize SEO, Paid Search, social media and other sales channels to stay in front of existing customers and get your message out to potential new clients.  Working with a full-service digital agency (hey, like us!) breaks down silos and increases a brand’s ability to change messaging and content quickly.

Use PPC to Drive Sales

Recession advertising should be more focused and efficient. That’s why PPC spending decreased substantially less than traditional marketing in 2009. Paid search through Google Ads, Bing and social media offer easy-to-measure ROI, valuable customer data and the opportunity to A/B test to optimize ad spend.

Working with a paid media agency can help you keep a closer eye on PPC trends and opportunities, including advertising on new platforms like streaming or earned media.

Don’t Forget About SEO During a Recession

Don’t give up on your SEO ground game. Search engine optimization can position your products or services in front of customers based on changing needs. Use rigorous keyword research to identify shifts in search terms and trends. You’ll likely find an increase in search queries like:

  • sale
  • save
  • value
  • discount
  • deals

Recessions don’t last forever, so use the time to conduct a content gap analysis to better position your brand against competitors on valuable keywords and topics. This can help you capture more total keywords and rank higher on the SERP, capturing clicks from competing domains.

Related: How to Choose the Best SEO Agency

Love The One(s) You’re With

Both B2B and B2C brands should prioritize existing customers. During a recession, everyone feels the pinch. It’s an ideal time to offer existing clients and customers extra value with more competitive pricing, bundles and incentives to make long-term commitments, such as annual contracts or agreements. New customer acquisition is 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer; it’s a great time to nurture those relationships.

Up Your Email Marketing Efforts

Email marketing delivers personalized content to customers who have already expressed interest in what you do. Use digest emails to deliver relevant blogs, videos, resources and promotions to customers who may be spending less time actively shopping online or in person. Even simple email automations, such as abandoned cart reminders, can drive conversions and generate revenue.

Branding During a Recession

Your brand is a long-term investment and shouldn’t be tied to a single product or your bottom line. Working within your brand’s existing identity, think of how to meet your customer’s needs when they’re counting on you.

  • How are you meeting your customer’s pain points?
  • How are you adapting to meet their needs?
  • Why are your products or services essential?
  • How are you strengthening your relationship with existing customers?

Get your leadership team together and take a deep dive into what your brand stands for.

Do What You Do Best

Companies are often forced to downsize during recessions. Most recessions usually see (and are sometimes defined by) notable increases in unemployment, which means businesses start slowing hiring and operating with fewer resources. Outsourcing certain marketing operations to an agency can let your team focus on day-to-day operations while getting access to professional PPC, SEO, content and social media experts to guide your recession marketing strategy.

The Sky Isn’t Falling; We’ve Got Your Back

For over two decades, Oneupweb has helped clients from every industry survive and thrive through the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. Count on our team to solve your most pressing marketing challenges. Get in touch or call 231-922-9977 to get started.

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