Marketing during a recession

October 19, 2020

Like most people, I have a visceral reaction to the word recession and can map my career against the recessions I’ve lived through. While no two recessions are the same, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from what we lived through as marketers. After all, they say that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. So, here are seven lessons from the last couple of recessions we can keep in mind today:

The Lipstick Effect – while consumers will be understandably putting off (although interestingly enough not cancelling) big ticket purchases, they will be looking for everyday affordable indulgences. A more modern take on this could be the latte effect but either way consumers are looking for comfort and reassurance when they spend their dollars. Marketers may not be able to take advantage of this depending on theor category or position, but its important to be aware of how consumers are thinking and acting.

Fix Up Not Upgrade – even though we’re in the throws of fast fashion, its worth remembering that in 2008 both cobblers and tailors saw a big increase in business as consumers decided to fix what they had rather than buy new to save a few dollars.

Quality Over Quantity – faced with increasing supply chain costs, CPGs may be considering changing the ingredients in their products to save money but consumers are notoriously fickle about changing flavours. Far better to shrink the size of the product and have complaints around shrinkflation (up to a point) than to skimp on the quality and have consumers abandon your product altogether.

Anchors Not Mooring – rather than mooring your brand in its current category, think about how you can anchor yourself against unconventional comparisons or alternatives. A set of home candles and oils ($) compares favourably against a day at the spa ($$$). A $30 download fee for a film is great value compared to going out to the movies on a date night and spending a couple of hundred dollars on baby-sitters, dinner, pop-corn, drinks and whatever else you can think of.

Value, Value, Value – all the quality, all the anchoring, all the lipstick effecting will be for naught if your product can’t demonstrate its value to the end consumer. Now, marketers may believe they have conclusively proved their value but the landscape has changed and now products need to win the day every day – there’s no room for coasting on the hard-won laurels of yesteryear

Be You, Just More of It – when people come under great stress, their personalities can change but when faced with seemingly insurmountable stress, their personalities change back to their original, just more. It should be the same for brands. Marketers have worked hard to figure out what their USP is; how they stand apart from their competitors so, if you have an established brand which consumers know and understand, your job is simple. You should double down on who your brand is, how it speaks and how it acts in order to cement itself in the minds of your consumers. Work on your differentiation – it will help your value proposition, your comparison points and other decisions you need to make

Increase Share of Voice – this is the hard one. When the world is going to hell in a hand basket, how can you responsibly maintain your marketing spend, let alone increase it? All the “science” and best practice says to do it but the fabric of you being says don’t. And you don’t have to maintain or increase marketing spend to grow within a recession – you just need to ensure you don’t cut as much as your competition. You just (just!) need to stay a little ahead of the other guys – this doesn’t need to be through paid media…you just need to be more visible, have more mental availability with your consumer and there are many relatively easy ways to do that with digital content and distribution.

There you have it. Seven ways to think about marketing during a recession using behavioural economics and hard won lessons from someone who’s seen it before – after all, experience matters.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum

August 27, 2020

I was on a bike ride through the Toronto trails, coming downhill on a steep track and ahead of me there were two women walking side by side, deep in conversation. I rang my bell several times but they didn’t care. As I got closer, I called out “on your left” to try and go by them but they both moved in weird ways and I was forced to brake hard behind them. They were startled by the braking and started to yell at me.


I was on a walk with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while through the Toronto trails having a great conversation about our lives, families and careers. We were socially distanced, making sure we were a good distance apart when a cyclist, who was going way too fast down the hill, almost lost control and crashed into us without a single warning.

What can we learn from this?

Perspective and empathy matter – there is almost always another point of view and our role as planners, as marketers, is to not look at the world as if we were the only person in it.

Everyone is the hero in their own story – no one tells a story that makes them look bad. In this case, there are no facts, just opinions and we select the opinions which fit into our own personal narrative.

Is Social Media Over-rated? Is Digital Marketing Out-dated? Is Integration really the big word for 2016?

March 21, 2016

Lots of people forwarded me this video (for obvious reasons) and there was plenty of discussion about its merits within the agency. As a result, after watching it a few times, I wrote the following POV and also started following Mark on Twitter.

Mark Ritson’s talk, “Why Social Media is Over-rated, Digital Marketing is Out-dated and why integration is the big word for 2016” is more aptly named for the world of soundbites and sub-tweets, rather than the substance and smart thinking it contains.

  • If your view of social media is real-time tweets, published in reaction to something just four minutes after the fact, then yes, it may be over rated. In truth, social media is so much more than brands publishing to shared social networks.
  • If digital marketing is silo’ed within your organization, then yes, it is likely out-dated. The truth is, you don’t need a digital business strategy, you need a business strategy for the digital age.
  • If integration, and holistic media neutral thinking, are key themes for 2016, then we’re happy to have been ahead of the trend.

However, Mark’s talk had three core themes, which I picked out and fully support…nuance and all:

  1. The organic reach for social media content (as exemplified by the “dunk in the dark” tweet he referenced) is almost negligible. And by extension, a brand’s communities on Facebook and Twitter are made up of absurdly low percentages of their actual customers. For us at Tribal, this represents the importance of paid media to ensure brands enjoy the sort of scale they need to make a difference to their businesses. Since the social media platforms became public companies, and as Mark himself goes on to say, this is an advertising medium. If it ever really existed, the free ride for brands is over. Therefore we should use the tried and tested rules of creating advertising.
  1. Because Celebrities and News Media outperform almost all other brands, (most) brands in their current guise are not welcome in social media. This reminded me of the Howard Gossage quote “people don’t read ads—they read what interests them, and sometimes it is an ad.” We are all forced to consider how we can be interesting and compelling for consumers while also driving our businesses forward. This point also reminds us that owned (websites) and shared (social networks) aren’t the only media in town. Borrowing equity from celebrities, publishers and influencers, or forging “all stars” from within the organization, who can create and propagate content on the brand’s behalf has incredible value if you can reach the required scale.
  1. We need to go back to the “old” rules of marketing, answering the key questions of “who is my target,” “what does my brand mean” and “what is my budget” in a world of zero-based budgeting, media neutrality, clear distinction and proper briefings between client and agency, and performance-based compensation. At Tribal, our bias is in digital and our belief is that powerful creative ideas, which stem from a digital or social insight, have a business-changing impact, beyond digital.

Once you get past the headline and into the body copy, you’ll hear Mark Ritson say that if digital and social media works for your business, as it does for some of his clients, you should go all in, but you should let data guide you. Brands have become complacent and lazy in trying new strategies. They have lost sight of what they are trying to achieve and how to measure success. They are scared to fail and therefore scared of learning or of adapting at the speed of culture, technology and consumers. The best brands who see value from social media show a willingness to invent and be different, a willingness to be free from corporate restraint and embrace the true power of social media – not the ability to simply publish content but in creating a network around your brand.

As an agency, we believe in the power of social media as a marketing channel because we’ve done what many others have not or cannot – we have unlocked this potential for our clients.

Thinking Different, Again

March 6, 2014

A while back, I wrote about the high school football coach who never punts, who always goes for it on fourth down and who always onside-kicks. He had looked at the game in a different way and was exploiting inefficiencies and insights. This is a similar story of the Houston Rockets’s D-league (developmental) team which has all but eliminated the mid-range jump shot. They only shoot 3’s or go for close-to-the-hoop shots. They’ve recognised that all shots in basketball have a value but that that value is not recognised on the score board. As one of the players says “shooting 33 per cent of 3s is the equivalent of shooting 50 per cent of 2s”.

Hopefully we’ll see more of this sort of different thinking in all sports, particularly if the “b-team” concept takes off in the UK and Premier League teams (like Liverpool) can experiment with different concepts, players, formations and tactics before trying them on the  big stage.


Transparency as an Advertising Trend

June 26, 2013

I read Amir Kassaei’s tweet:

(he’s our global chief creative officer at DDB) and then saw this cartoon from Tom Fishbourne:

He writes:

Authenticity and transparency are two of the biggest marketing buzzwords right now (and have been gaining steam for a while). Nearly every case study and talk coming out of Cannes last week seemed to reference authenticity as a theme.

Transparency and authenticity are likely a theme because as an industry we’re starting to realise three things:

  • To be good conversationalists, you have to be a good listener – for brands, this means listening to people and giving them what they want
  • Consumers may not want a “conversation” but they probably want, on some level, reassurance that what a brand is doing and saying comes from a good place (it usually does)
  • Our clients are some of the most passionate people about their brands out there. Sometimes our job is to give them a platform, some training and direction before getting out of the way.

As I’ve said before, although in the context of media units, what’s new is usually effective vs its predecessors until everyone else catches up. Perhaps the same could be said of trends – the effectiveness starts the trend and once its a full-blown trend, it becomes the norm. Which, in this case, is a very good thing. Transparency. Authenticity. Good people doing good things for good reasons.

Radar DDB 10am One Thing: Social Money

March 21, 2013

The following is this week’s Radar DDB 10am One Thing that I wrote for the DDBlog.

Payment - By Steve Snodgrass

TV, newspapers, human resources, taxis and hotel rooms. So many industries have been and continue to be disrupted by the internet and social media. The latest is the very act of making a payment. American Express has already integrated its offers with Foursquare (check-in to redeem), with Facebook (sync, like, save) and with Twitter (sync, tweet, save) but now other start-ups believe they have the secret sauce to revolutionise the payment industry.

The recently launched Cover app is self-styled as the “Uber of restaurants” – your credit card is kept on file and charged after every meal, tip included. No awkward moments of waiting for the cheque, no more using your phone to work out how much to tip. Just book, eat and leave.

Online and on the social web, Chirpify connects your credit card to your social activity – users simply need to comment or reply “buy” to content in order to purchase that item. The “social commerce and payments platform” promises no linking to other experiences, no shopping carts, no complicated checkout process. Just an instant sale.

On a personal level, flattr allows users to “tip” content creators by sharing a set monthly donation across all the pieces of content they have liked. The service has been around for a few years, but has recently expanded from a simple button included on blog posts to integration with some of social media’s hottest sites like Soundcloud and Instagram.

Social money is a new way of thinking about paying for things on and offline. It takes an existing process and reimagines it, redesigns it, disrupts it by using the power of digital and the social connections digital can forge. Do you think this digital disruption will stop at money? We think it has a long way to go.

Cover, covered by Wired:

The One Thing is a result of the daily 10am meetings held in the DDB Canada offices, where our digital teams meet to discuss new online trends, tools and technologies. Today’s One Thing was written by Ed Lee, Tribal DDB Director, Social Media.

For an archive of the 10am links, visit our Pinterest board.

Follow Radar on Twitter

Photo: Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

Wisdom of Terry Crews

August 29, 2012

As part of the launch of a new, interactive Old Spice video, Terry Crews was wooing the people of Reddit through an “AMA” (ask me anything). Despite being the pitchman for Old Spice and having a movie in theatres he did not try to promote either, unless he was asked about it. This unselfish approach won over Reddit and led to a new meme – nice guy Terry Crews (in the vein of “nice guy greg”).

All this aside, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the AMA and wanted to share some of the best pieces of wisdom from Terry Crews.

On the worst job he had:

I was in college and my job was pounding in signs around campus. My boss was lazy and i did all the work. Then HE called ME lazy. I got mad and quit. You know what I learned? I never should have quit. I should have pounded more signs. I should have been the best sign pounder in the world. But I let one guys wrong opinion of me fake me out of my money. And I needed it. I almost starve. Pride is an ugly thing that must be killed at the very sight of it.

On being a celebrity:

I remember shaking every hand and taking every picture, then seeing my wife and kids sad because I was out with them, but spent no time with them. I had to set boundaries. I love being famous and all the fans, but my wife and kids need Terry the husband, Terry the Dad. Terry the Star has no place at home.

On auditioning:

I LOVE too audition. because if they hire you, it means they wanted you. Everybody wants to be wanted.

On turning a perceived weakness into a strength:

What others think is a hindrance to Hollywood has ALWAYS become someone’s calling card. Barbara Streisand nose, Sly’s Slur, Arnold’s accent — it’s all about how you see yourself. I know there is only one ME. If you hire me- you GET ME. And there’s only one. There will never be another

On steroids and acceptance:

Never used them. I empathize with those who want to be strong but there are no shortcuts. People take steroids because they BELIEVE they have no other way. Steroids are about comparing yourself to other people– but if you just become the best YOU, you’ll find you never needed them.

Finally, that new video from Old Spice and W+K:

Thanks to Parker for the run down.

Kieffer Sutherland Cupcake Ad

August 22, 2012

I’m not sure if Jack Bauer Kieffer Sutherland was allowed to do this outside of his contract with the Counter Terrorism Unit, CTU Fox.

Its a really fun film that reminds me of a better time. When 24 rocked my PVR.

Update – seems as if Acer is pulling down the creative…I’ll update when I can find a stable link.

Buffer App – First Takes

September 28, 2011

My tweeting “style” is best compared to an ice hockey player. I go hard at it for short bursts and then go long stretches with minimal activity. After reading this Edelman Digital piece on Buffer App, I thought I’d give it a try – Buffer App stores your Tweets and then publishes at the optimum times for “engagement”.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to my Twitter stats (number of replies, favourites, retweets and followers) in as much as I look at them from time to time, but I don’t track them.

So when it comes to validate the stats provided by Buffer App to Michael Brito, I can’t confirm or deny.

  • Buffer users increased clicks on links they posted by 200% within 2 weeks of using
  • The amount of retweets doubles on average
  • Buffer users increase their follower count by 104 followers within 3 weeks on average

I have noticed an upward trend, as told by my gut, that it feels like I’m getting more official retweets and more @ replies, although that could be because I get replies from tweets I’ve buffered and forgotten.

One thing I like a lot is the reporting which looks a lot like the by-tweet reporting from the Promoted Products beta.

Buffer App reporting

I’ve noticed that Buffer App is scheduling tweets at the same times each day so if Buffer App is optimizing tweets from all its users based on their secret sauce, then it is an excellent service. Either way, I’m going to keep using it – it works for me in that I can store tweets and it seems to work for my followers who don’t get bombarded by umpteen Twitter messages all in a row. Check it out yourself.

Source: Buffer App Increases Engagement on Twitter | Edelman Digital.

The Champions League of Social Media

June 2, 2011

I love social media and I love football. Why wouldn’t I post this?

It’s interesting to see the utter dominance of the US within social media – the Super Bowl received almost 4x more tweets than the Champions League.

From We Are Social, a specialist agency in the UK.

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