Hold back or spend? How brands should plan media during Covid-19

Advertising spends depend on future projections and revenue targets. What should brands do when the near future looks uncertain? Should they hold back their money or go the whole hog on brand-building? does a deep dive

Akanksha Nagar
New Update
Hold back or spend? How brands should plan media during Covid-19

Businesses across the globe are fighting to survive the economic impact of Covid-19. As a part of austerity drives, companies are scaling down expenditures and reviewing their ad spends.

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Prudence says advertising cost should be scaled down. But should that be the case when media consumption on TV and digital is at an all-time high?

FMCG major Procter & Gamble has ramped up its marketing spends in the US, making the crisis more of a low-cost brand-building exercise where advertising can be bought at lower prices.

Should brands in India, especially the ones present in the essentials category, emulate the example?

Gurpreet Singh

Gurpreet Singh, the Head of Marketing at United Breweries, expects brands from these segments to invest in awareness and acquisition of potential customers.

Ashish Thakur

Adding, Ashish Thakur, Business Head, Birla Ayurveda, said what could be better than looking at opportunities at all times!

“If brands can devote to the increase of awareness and production while looking at the demand, it would surge visibility and contribute to higher sales. Engaging effectively with the consumer calls for new approaches. To maintain and build relationships with consumers, many brands are raising content marketing investments. It could be subjective as some brands will have a greater opportunity to do this than others,” he added.

The brand with its own line of personal care and OTC products is increasing awareness and pushing supplies.

Vijay Kaul

“There are plenty of research papers which show brands that continue to invest in brand-building during times of recession benefit in the long term versus brands that go dark. In categories where revenues threaten the survival of companies such as cinemas, hospitality and airlines, there may be no choice but to cut spends altogether. In these times, owned and earned media can play an important role to maintain SOV,” said Vijay Kaul, Deputy General Manager, Marketing Communication, Yamaha Motor India.

The auto industry is dependent on the dealership network and test drives, which are closed currently. Even the planned launches have been postponed from Yamaha’s end. With the current low sales, doubling its investment at the moment will certainly not be prudent, Kaul said. However, it is continuing with its campaigns while exploring opportunities in the paid media space, albeit in a smaller way.

Prashant Sinha

The brands in FMCG, hygiene or edtech sector have gone up in terms of consumption. Prashant Sinha, COO and Co-Founder, Momspresso, said there is an increased opportunity for such brands to spend in order to generate cash, by putting the brand out there to try and turn into profits.

As the platform works with a plethora of brands across categories, it has witnessed that brands that are a necessity among consumers right now have raised their profile at this time (within reason, so as not to seem like they’re exploiting the situation) as demand for them is clearly seen.

Nishit Nanda

Speaking on behalf of the gems and jewellery industry, Nishit Nanda, Executive Director, Khimji Jewels, said there is definitely merit in exploring the "doubling down" approach for brands in this sector. To deliver authentic and humane stories, the brand has also increased its spends, albeit with no sales.

Udit Malhotra

“This is the time when you have to build a brand and if you go out of sight this time then I don't think people will remember you. If you go with the markets globally, splurging has increased. This is the right time to build your brand. Because as you can reach at the frequency which is way higher than TV and OOH, etc. And yes, people will take notice of your initiatives which will become a very big thing. Brands have already started doing more marketing activities. I see a lot of automotive, FMCG brands doing that already. However, they are leveraging only digital as a medium,” Udit Malhotra, CMO, MG Motor, had recently told

The most important thing is to market responsibly. Consumers will be quick to judge the intention of the brand during these times.

What medium is the right medium?

Nanda believes liquidity or otherwise, crisis or no crisis, digital is the only bet.

“We need to be where our audience is. And our audience is always moving. They are swimming in the fluid new world. So more than looking at digital as a medium, we see it as air. Making any plans without it is like planning a trip without breathing,” he added. 

Shekhar Agarwal

The world is changing and use of this new-age medium is going to get far more impetus in the coming time, said Shekhar Agarwal, Head of Marketing, Havmor Ice-creams.  This is perhaps the best way to engage with the consumers and brands are going all out to create more innovative and interactive content on digital.

Sinha said brands will have to do what they have always done best — adapt. Staying on top of latest trends, watching data for insight, and understanding new consumer behaviours will be key in driving successful marketing strategies. And lastly, most brands will have to move towards performance-driven marketing. They will have to pay close attention to campaign performance and efficiency spending.

Digital marketing will emerge as the most essential channel strategies for helping brands sustain and grow while supporting their customers in this time of need.

Singh (UBL) urged all brands to invest in what the society needs at the moment – and do it genuinely and just not for PR points. For brands that seek to sustain their communities and fans during this period, speaking strictly marketing-wise, he said community engagement on social and user-retention efforts would make maximum sense.

Bharath Sastry

“Brands can focus more on maximising the free and cost-efficient channels, for example really upping the game on SEO will be valuable. Also it’s a good time for innovation, and working on features and offerings that will help in the long run,” said Bharath Sastry, CEO of Vistaprint India.

Consumers are returning to broadcast, television, internet and other premium media sources for knowledge and information. And therefore, relying on digital ways of working and connecting with consumers and maintaining the decorum of lock-down will have lasting effects.

Gurmeet Singh

With the sudden spike in news and entertainment on TV, advertising on the medium with focus on new entertainment and infotainment avenues along with digital platforms is going to be a safe bet for brands in the near future, said Gurmeet Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning India.

The brand itself has aggressive plans to utilise TV and digital in a big way so as to create positive perception among the consumers of the new and informed world order.

In a nutshell, brands agreed that the principles of marketing shouldn’t change, even in a black swan event like the present one. But when the markets open up, will brands continue focusing on the fundamentals like brand building or will they be managing marketing spend efficiency with a targeted value payback for customer segments, saving monies?

Hold back or spend? COVID-19