How To

April 9, 2020

Marketing: why uncertain times are the right time

Five reasons to keep your marketing machine moving during the coronavirus crisis.

Supported by

And Rising

“This is the single best time in the world to advertise and build your brand” said Tim Armstrong, former AOL chief executive and head of Google ads for the Americas, last week. But it might seem like the single worst time in the world for many scaleups.

While the world around us looks increasingly like a disaster movie, scaleups somehow need to keep selling and keep the cash flowing. That means quickly re-thinking the marketing machine — especially if you are a direct-to-consumer brand because shopping from home will continue to rise sharply over the next 12 weeks.

bar chart showing ecommerce penetration during coronavirus

Still, there are plenty of questions: What marketing can I afford right now? What kind of marketing is best? In fact, what kind of marketing is even appropriate at the moment? 


There are no easy answers — but here’s our advice.

Help new customers discover your brand

People’s buying behaviours changed overnight. E-commerce data from Stackline shows that the category with the highest year-on-year growth after disposable gloves is bread machines (+652%!). While we could have guessed that dog food, craft kit and computer monitor sales would go up, would we have predicted that hair colouring products would also shoot up +119%? 

One of scaleups’ biggest challenges is that people are creatures of habit — except in a system reset. People are more open to new discoveries as lives go through rapid change. In doing so, new habits are being formed — many which will go on beyond present times.

Bar Chart showing top 100 eommerce growth during coronavirus

Spend while media is cheap

The advertising industry is in turmoil, with campaigns being cancelled, so the price of big, mass-market media is low right now. Major retailers have also pulled out of Google and Facebook channels — all digital channels are taking a big hit too. That means there’s less competitive spend as well as less cluttered marketing environments to stand out in — and a more captive audience than ever before. 

But beware the bounce. Traditional brands, whilst pulling back now, are stockpiling cash hoping for bigger campaigns later in the year. Assuming Christmas 2020 is still on, expect a competitive environment of newly strong contenders taking on those who need to claw back what was lost earlier in the year. So don’t miss your opportunity now.

Photo showing the lowered ad rates for Twitter, Facebook and Google

Never, ever go dark

Whatever you do, do not stop communicating. Do not underestimate how your idea or platform may take on a surprising new value in people’s lives — just like the bread maker. 

Traditional big brand data backs this up. Those that cut marketing deepen the problem in the short, medium and long term. Those who have been to marketing school are taught this: Kellogg’s survived all of its competitors by continuing to invest in marketing during the 1920s Great Depression. Likewise, during the 1990/1 recession, McDonald’s lost 28% of its sales from de-investing, while Taco Bell and Pizza Hut gained 61% and 40% by keeping going. 

The principle is simple: advertising right now will buy disproportionately more attention and return on investment than at any other time. It’s the perfect storm for a smaller brand to go big. Broadcasters are looking for new advertisers and we are making packages available to support them, with low costs, match-funding, defined metrics and brilliant creative.

Chart showing the use of advertiisng during the 1920s great depression

If nothing else, delay and prepare

Of course some sectors — like travel — are entirely closed at the moment. But the principles of adapting your social dialogue and even building it with your audience is still a real possibility even if it’s not leading to sales right now. 

For those that can, continue or build investment in marketing planning for a new world. Run small-scale experiments or get back to those fundamental branding or brand idea jobs — now’s your time. You can be sure others are in bunkers developing ideas to be unleashed the nanosecond things begin to move on. 

Be of service, but above all else, be yourself

Just because you don’t have a service or product that’s natural to donate to the NHS right now doesn’t mean you don’t have something valuable to offer people. A scaleup mentor recently said ‘do what you love and be of service’ — a piece of brand guidance that’s useful at any time, not just now. Bread machines don’t need to save us, they just need to be great at making bread. 


Hope you’re able to work with some of these ideas even if you’re doing what you must today, with what you have, to get to tomorrow. Keep your marketing thinking hats on: there’s gain as well as strain to be had.

For more info on anything discussed above, email Adrienne Little, head of investments at advertising agency And Rising: