Agencies Brand Strategy How Do You Solve a Problem Like...

How do you solve a problem like... making the case for advertising during a pandemic?


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

January 12, 2021 | 9 min read

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum, from brands, agencies and everything in between, for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. This week, they tell us how they're persuading clients to keep communicating to consumers during the pandemic crisis.

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How can agencies, creatives and marketers persuade brands to stick their neck out in the current climate?

With a historic economic crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s no surprise to hear that many advertisers have pulled back spend over the last 12 months. Once again it’s up to those in the advertising industry to sing for their supper and make the case to clients to keep spending, keep talking and keep advertising their wares.

But with conditions far harsher than even a ’normal’ recession, they’ll need to be more persuasive than ever before.

How do you make the case for advertising during a pandemic?

jenny kirby

Jenny Kirby, managing partner, GroupM

When Covid-19 hit, it left a long-lasting dent in consumer confidence and spending across a range of sectors, which translated into more cautious advertising investment. But agencies can achieve the desired business outcomes for brands with fewer resources through a more robust approach to measurement.

Gone are the days of cost-per-click (CPC) and click-through-rates (CTR) being the only indicators for how a digital advertising campaign is performing. Agencies that utilise custom measurement metrics tailored to the objectives of specific brands will achieve a better return on budgets, help marketers meet these objectives for less, and create an evidence-based case for continued advertising investment.

victoria day

Victoria Day, managing partner, Ogilvy UK

In this unstable economic climate, it’s no wonder the idea of spending on something as ethereal as ‘brand’ may be an anathema to some. Our job when the clients are under this kind of commercial pressure is to gently remind them (or more often, their stakeholders) that investing in the brand is not a luxury.

A healthy brand is the most potent commercial asset they have at their disposal; it will attract more customers, reduce price elasticity, and drive frequency of purchase. Armed with the objective facts to prove that, justifying spend on advertising becomes a whole lot easier.

sarah baumann

Sarah Baumann, managing director, VaynerMedia London

To make the case for advertising is to make the case for creativity. Creativity is what creates cultural relevance for brands – creating impact and business growth.  Impactful creativity has the powerful ability to position brands at the forefront of both culture and consumers' minds and is what sets them apart from the rest – it is the only variable. 

Creativity gives ’advertising’ a role and we know it's more important than ever in times of economic uncertainty to keep the lights on. When brands and agencies act as an integrated unit with their finger on the pulse of culture, effective contextual creative ensures the engine keeps running.

glen wilson

Glen Wilson, group managing director, Posterscope

The long-received wisdom is that its potentially easier and more cost effective to capture market share in times of downturn. With new ‘full lockdown’ measures introduced, it would be easy to discount the use of OOH, but I would argue that for some sectors OOH is a really good place to capture that share.

Audiences have not disappeared, in absolute terms - our mobility index shows people were 61.5.% as mobile last week as pre-coronavirus, and as audiences have re-distributed more locally, mobility in some areas is actually higher than pre-coronavirus. With two-thirds of people also feeling a heightened affinity to their local areas, OOH enables brands to effectively build emotional connections, using “dynamic digital” to deliver messaging with the local context.

elizabeth cherian

Elizabeth Cherian, EMEA director, WT Intelligence at Wunderman Thompson

After a bleak year with uncertainty lying ahead, it’s unsurprising YouGov reports that optimism amongst Brits has plummeted to a dismal 16%. Now more than ever people want stories that make them believe that something better is possible.

Indeed we’ve found 72% of consumers want to be inspired. Yet only 53% feel inspired by brands. This ‘Inspiration Gap’ gives brands a huge opportunity to step in and provide much-needed hope to a disillusioned Britain. Now’s not the time to take the foot off the gas, but to invest in communications and play a part in inspiring a nation.

tim lindsay

Tim Lindsay, chairman of D&AD

’Never waste a good crisis’, they say and while there’s almost nothing good about this one, it does offer opportunities to ambitious marketers and their agencies. Increasing the emotional engagement of consumers with your brand during the pandemic takes deep knowledge, skill, pinpoint accuracy and considerable courage.

Getting it wrong can be disastrous. But get it right and you reap big benefits. So hats off to ITV, the NHS, Jack Daniels, Facebook, EE and Nike, among others. You'll have your own list – thanks to Unruly for this one.

stan pavlovsky

Stan Pavlovsky, chief executive officer at Shutterstock

In December 2020, we launched our first-ever TV advert, targeting small businesses. Throughout the pandemic, we have supported our partners through Shutterstock Studios, and created a Covid-19 hub for access to free content during restrictions. Making a case for our first TV ad was simple – at Shutterstock, we have all of the assets and skills required to make the advert in-house and understood the power and breadth TV provides in reaching our key audiences. Just as we helped our clients shift their communications strategies to cultivate creativity in the time of quarantine, the same applied to us.

mike campbell

Mike Campbell, head of effectiveness, Ebiquity

In short, data. Data provides the insights needed to truly understand the value of a brand’s investment and, when used correctly, will speak the boardroom’s language in terms of the clear ROI and growth needed to persuade even the most cautious chief finance officer. Optimal media planning benefits from the rigorous application of marketing analytics, including techniques such as market mix modelling, rigorous testing, and brand equity modelling.

This data-driven approach enables brands to choose the right level of investment for brands and markets, depending on the specific brand, the category and number/scale of competitors, and whether the brand is a market leader or a challenger. By adopting this way of working, brands can address the long-term crisis in creative effectiveness and reverse the long-term decline in marketing impact.

elie kanaan

Elie Kanaan, chief marketing and strategy officer of Ogury

Today, consumers are suffering from digital fatigue as online media consumption and screen time have soared across the globe. As a consequence, their tolerance for ’buy-this-now’ type of ads is close to zero. Consumers are completely disengaging from annoying ‘hard sell’ advertising.

To make the case for advertising, first and foremost brands need to recognise this reality and understand that consumers crave authentic messages that respect their online experience. Secondly, brands should re-embrace the true purpose of advertising and allocate a bigger part of their budget towards brand and product discovery, building a positive brand image, and creating lasting relationships with consumers. This shift will address consumer demand for authentic engagement while reducing budget waste on useless advertising.

alastair mccallum

Alistair MacCallum, UK chief executive officer, Kinetic

Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the way we shop, commute, and live our everyday lives. Yet, device-level data is showing that on certain formats such as roadside and POS, audiences remain robust – with 19 million still travelling to work daily, to supermarkets and click and collect retail outlets. OOH remains a vital channel for relevant, real-time and reactive messaging at this time. And as we move towards a return to real life in Q2/Q3, OOH will have a huge role to play in future-proofing brands publicly, building confidence and trust while driving physical and online behaviours. No other media channel delivers the universal and inclusive reach that OOH does and will continue to offer to brands and businesses.

Feel like adding your two cents? Email me at to be included in future editions of this series.

Agencies Brand Strategy How Do You Solve a Problem Like...

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