Brand Strategy Messaging Recession

Would your brand messaging survive a recession?

By Beth Simpson, Paid Media Executive



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May 17, 2024 | 6 min read

As worries about recession persist around the globe, Beth Simpson of Connective3 reflects on how advertisers’ responded to the 2008 economic crisis.

A pair of scissors positioned to cut across a reem of hundred dollar bills is

Some brands that did not cut advertising spend in 2008 picked up new business / Igor Omilaev via Unsplash

The UK has emerged from the second of two recessions it has experienced since the 2008 financial crash – the first being the economic slowdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. Germany, Japan, Ireland, and Finland are all also experiencing or have recently experienced recessions. Question marks continue over the future of Chinese economic growth, and the effect any downturn there would have on the global economy.

While the US has enjoyed steady economic growth recently, commentators have coined the term ‘vibecession’ to explain the lack of consumer confidence in the economy despite healthy economic data. With all this in the air, it seems as good a moment as any to reflect on the lessons learned by advertisers during the 2008 recession.

Behavior changes in a recession

While many businesses retreat from advertising spend during economic downturns, some brands did continue to invest during the 2008 financial crisis – and many of these saw stronger performance in the long term compared to competitors. There are lessons to learn here.

Recessions prompt consumers to adopt more cautious spending habits. Uncertainty about the future can lead to a focus on essential purchases, prioritization of value, and increased price sensitivity. Discretionary spending decreases as shoppers become more conservative with their finances, opting for practicality over indulgence.

Furthermore, trust and loyalty towards brands undergo scrutiny, as consumers seek reliability and reassurance. Brands can best respond in their messaging by focusing on price, quality, and brand trust.

During the 2008 financial crisis, McDonald‘s strategically increased its advertising budget, focusing on value-driven messaging. By emphasizing its affordable menu options and family-friendly atmosphere, the fast-food chain appealed to cost-conscious consumers seeking budget-friendly meals. This approach led to a significant increase in sales and market share, outperforming competitors who reduced their advertising budgets or turned off completely.

Hyundai, in contrast to competitors that halted advertising spend amid declining sales, chose to maintain and even increase its marketing efforts during the recession. Through a series of campaigns emphasizing affordability, reliability, and its warranties, Hyundai positioned itself as a dependable choice for more budget-conscious car buyers. The result? Hyundai experienced substantial sales growth while gaining market share and enhancing brand perception.

Advertising through the 2008 recession helped brands achieve success in maintaining and capturing new market share. The likes of McDonald‘s and Hyundai were able to maintain visibility, reinforce brand loyalty, and take customers from competitors.

By conveying messages of value, reliability, and stability, advertisers can resonate with consumers‘ shifting priorities and alleviate concerns regarding product quality and affordability. Advertising also fosters brand awareness and differentiation, ensuring that companies remain top-of-mind amid heightened competition and economic uncertainty which might lead customers to shop around.

Pivot for successful messaging

Here are some key strategies for successful messaging during periods of economic instability. Firstly, focus on value: emphasize affordability, quality, and practicality to align with consumer preferences for cost-effective solutions. Secondly, maintain visibility: sustain advertising efforts to remain present in consumers‘ minds and capitalize on competitors‘ reduced visibility.

Thirdly, adapt messaging: tailor messaging to address consumer concerns and reassure them of the brand‘s reliability and commitment. Next, innovate: explore creative advertising approaches to capture attention and differentiate from competitors in a crowded market. Lastly, be sure to build trust: cultivate loyalty through transparent communication, consistent branding, and customer-centric messaging.

The 2008 financial crisis serves as a critical case study for brands looking to survive a recession and serves as a testament to just how much consumer buying habits shift in economic uncertainty. Some brands that continued to invest in advertising and adapted their strategies to align with shifting consumer priorities outperformed competitors and solidified their market positions, whilst gaining a higher share of voice.

By understanding the dynamics of consumer behavior in times of economic uncertainty and leveraging the power of advertising and messaging, businesses can navigate recessions successfully and emerge stronger as a result. So, is your brand messaging recession-proof?

Brand Strategy Messaging Recession

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