All-weather marketing part 2: WPP on building a bridge to the future

How is your advertising building a bridge to a sustainable future for your business?

Marketing in turbulent times isn’t just about making the decision to keep advertising. It involves asking meaningful questions about what you’re advertising for. Being clear about your objectives and the timeframe over which you plan to achieve them, is the key to informing creative thinking. How is your advertising building a bridge to a sustainable future for your business?

Researchers and analysts have spent the last few months urgently considering this question – and the data provides some answers. Peter Field, a research fellow at the B2B Institute, a think tank funded by LinkedIn, studied advertising strategies that leading brands pursued during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis; he found the business case for brand advertising becomes stronger during a recession. In that downturn, companies who gained Excess Share of Voice (ESOV) while others were cutting ad spend, gained significant market share. A recent study commissioned during the current pandemic, from advertising research agency System1, also backs up that brand advertising is resonating. Their data shows that, during this crisis, audiences have responded to ads that are emotional, distinctive and stress togetherness.

Marketing isn’t just about brand advertising, though. Marketers and their agencies must also judge how demand is being reshaped by the crisis – and how the role of their business is changing as a result. As we move through the different phases of the pandemic’s impact, they’ll need to recognise and respond to opportunities and challenges that might be very different to previous downturns.

WPP’s Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, Laurent Ezekiel, believes that building a bridge to the future for brands will involve more than just communications. For this edition of All-Weather Marketing, we asked him about how WPP sees the role of advertising, creativity and innovation over the coming months – and how the group has been advising clients to approach the challenges that lie ahead. He talks about wider transformations that can take advantage of the way that people’s buying habits are being disrupted:

What’s been your advice on advertising during the pandemic?

We don’t believe that one size fits all. There are many variables such as sector and market. We do know that companies that can invest now are putting themselves in a good position for the recovery. WPP is a creative transformation company, and we see opportunities to accelerate transformation in a beneficial way. People are shopping differently, buying more online and trying out new brands; all of this has the power to impact our future purchasing habits. Research by Mindshare in the US shows that most consumers are likely to continue to buy new brands or try new services after the pandemic is over. If we can create positive moments for the brands we work with, then we’ll be able to strengthen connections with customers for years to come.

How have your agencies responded to the crisis creatively?

We believe that combining technology and creativity has become increasingly important given the amount of change that’s happening – and our work reflects this. I’d pick out our recent work with Ford, helping them shift gears to fight the coronavirus. We created content and started conversations about how Ford is stepping up and lending a hand, keeping their employees and customers safe, supporting healthcare workers and helping their local communities. Ford paused car production all around the world and started making powered air-purifying respirators, ventilators and over 10 million face shields. Ford also started manufacturing washable gowns from air bag materials and dealers transformed their showrooms into food banks. The media amplified these stories with a positive brand sentiment achieving a total potential reach of 3 billion impressions.

We’re also very proud of Grey’s #DistanceDance work for P&G, which helped the brand reach a younger audience through more than 10 billion views on TikTok. Deeplocal’s Scrubber that added soundtrack to a person’s handwashing routine with their most-played Spotify tracks. Ogilvy’s Courage is Beautiful campaign for Dove and Grey’s Five Heroic Acts for the World Health Organisation which were both creative responses to the crisis that stood out.

How can brands meet customers where they are, but avoid being perceived as opportunistic?

There’s a very fine line between being visible and being sensitive to what people are going through. It matters because people will remember how you behave during a crisis. There are a few basic rules of thumb: speak authentically to your brand values, review your messaging, and of course, don’t show people socialising. I believe the most meaningful campaigns are honest reflections of real life right now.

Both Peter Field and System1 have identified common characteristics of advertising that increases engagement during this situation. It tends to involve businesses with a clear role in people’s lives now, which are able to express that role in emotive, memorable ways. Bridges to the future feel most robust and credible when they’re built on these foundations.

For more information visit LinkedIn’s B2B Institute.

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