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Phoenix COVID Conversations – Topic #1: Learning from History

April 9, 2020

As we navigate through these challenging times, the experts at Phoenix wanted to start a conversation about what this might mean for advertisers, what can be learned from past crises, and how we might want to think about the future.

Although a very different situation, the most recent major crisis from which we might draw some learnings was the 2008 financial crisis & recession that followed. One of the things that we can take from 2008 and apply to today is how quickly brands reacted to the economic downturn and what was happening in the financial market, specifically in the financial services and brand adjacent industries.

Within weeks of the collapse, we observed immediate messaging coming from those brands that focused on the strength & stability of the institution and reliability of the brand. They used these campaigns as a way of separating themselves from those that were drawing negative attention and were perceived as failing.

One of the key differences that we believe we will see more of today is that a lot of the messaging was very insular to the brand itself, not necessarily about how the brand can aid consumers at that point in time.

In Good Hands

We saw this trend continue within the insurance sector, where there was a noticeable shift from talking in material terms to being more compassionate towards consumers—one of the most well-known campaigns of the last decade actually launched in response to the 2008 recession. The Allstate In Good Hands campaign was launched very quickly in response to the changing consumer dynamic and the need to communicate to consumers their focus on trustworthiness and corporate stability. Back to Basics :60, which features Dennis Haysbert reflecting on the Great Depression and that even though 1931 was not a good year, it was the year that Allstate opened its doors. The ad continues with the message that through the 12 recessions that followed, Allstate was there and committed to protecting what people cared about most. This moving ad was a prime example of how to not only position your brand as reliable and stable but also how to relate to consumers in their everyday lives.

The 2008 recession also launched Progressive’s Flo campaign, which is another great example of a brand thinking more about what they stand for with overall equity and brand health. They instilled a sense of trust and friendliness to consumers, with less of a focus on the hard-hitting material messaging to consumers, knowing that they needed to adapt to match the climate.

Missing the Mark

However, hitting the right stroke with consumers was not easy, and many brands faced challenges when attempting to communicate with consumers following the recession. Specifically, in the retail/CPG sectors, brands that focused on rational, promo based messages pushing for lower prices to get people into stores did not emerge successfully. Consumers were looking to be entertained and connect with brands, and the ones who took a more sentimental or light-hearted, humorous approach were able to stand out.

Key Takeaways

Following the 2008 financial crisis, brands who were nimble, responded quickly to protect their brand equity and position, and aligned their messaging with the mood and sentiment of consumers found the most success. When looking towards an uncertain future, focus on the long game, and change the conversation from being about share of voice to share of mind. Consumers are changing the way they are buying and the messaging they are reacting to, and while we are seeing lower consumer sentiment and are bracing for a downturn, brands have to do everything they can now to stay top of mind with consumers. Because once consumers are ready to turn to their older habits and shop in stores again, you will want them thinking of your brand.

Phoenix will be continuing to monitor changes in TV advertising as well as viewers’ response to these campaigns with the goal of helping clients make the most informed decisions in this highly unique landscape. Check out our latest findings and insights on the impact of COVID crisis on the advertising landscape.

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