Get your creative communications right in challenging times

Advertising shouldn't stop during tough times, but you need the right creative messaging. Here are 4 success factors to get it right.
09 February 2023
How to get advertising right in challenging times
Ecem Erdem

Global Creative Thought Leadership Manager

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If we were to describe the environment we are in today globally, it is very likely most people’s choice would be ‘worry’. The aftermath of the pandemic, the ongoing increase in the cost of living, the ramifications of war, the toll of climate change on the planet… There is no doubt that the world has been going through tough times!

While consumers are challenged by decreasing purchase power and are cautious with their budgets, companies are also under pressure with their marketing spend and facing the challenge of maintaining visibility and brand power in inflationary times. We see that advertisers have different strategies for coping with this, some brands are cutting marketing spend and others are planning increases to battle the recession. However, our analysis shows that a drastic cut in the advertising budget is never the solution.

Disruption in advertising leads to having to spend even more to recover the damage it does to long-term memories and long-term sales. Marketing investment is like a tanker ship with forward inertia being the brand's equity. If you turn off the engine for a short while, the inertia will keep the ship moving forward. But as it starts to slow down, it requires a lot more power to return the tanker to its former speed. Moreover, Kantar BrandZ data clearly shows that brands that continue to invest outperform others and bounce back more quickly after financial and economic crises.

Our recent Kantar Profiles poll shows clear evidence that people also want you to stay connected. Only 5% of people think that companies should stop advertising, and this was true in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic too.

While it is clear that brands should not be aloof from their audience, the success of a marketing campaign relies on how you communicate. So, the question is how can you get your creative messaging right?

Based on an in-depth analysis of our Link ad testing database and our recent consumer survey, we identified 4 success factors to help brands come up smiling, even when times are tough.

1. Stay close to your audience

Strong communications accelerate brand growth, even in a crisis. Now more than ever, it is crucial to ensure your creative communications connect and resonates with your audience. As consumers are challenged with personal budget cuts, they are also more sensitive to how brands spend their budgets. Understand your audiences’ needs. Be sensitive, show empathy, and avoid appearing tone-deaf. Make every marketing dollar invested in creative testing punch above its weight by ensuring it connects and resonates with your audience – so test your advertising to make your campaigns as effective as they can be.

2. Engage people’s emotions – positively

With people under pressure, sensitivity in advertising is key. People want brands to offer a positive perspective, and we know from our facial coding analysis that their emotional responses do not differ during crises. Over half of the consumers in our poll said that brands should offer a positive perspective, so be helpful and supportive, and don’t exploit the current financial situation. A quarter of people even thought brands should just carry on doing what they're doing anyway. So, continue to create emotionally strong advertising to stay close to your audience and drive impact.

How should brands advertise in the current financial crisis?

Survey data showing how brands should advertising in a financial crisis

Source: Kantar Profiles network poll – 11 markets


Cadbury’s distinctive and award-winning Secret Santa campaign with generosity at its heart is a great example of how brands can go a long way with a positive tone that brings joy.

Humor is also a great way to build an emotional connection, and in fact, only 14% of people in our survey think humor is not appropriate in the current economic and social atmosphere.

McDonald’s’ global campaign ‘Wanna go to McDonald’s?’ gets the gentle humor right, tapping into something universal that everybody can relate to.


3. If you are taking concrete steps to help, communicate them

Is your brand doing concrete things to help people? Then don’t be afraid to share how you are helping. Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer shows that over half of people think it's a good idea for brands to communicate about the actions they’re taking through advertising.

Brands should communicate the actions they are taking through advertising

chart showing people want brands to communicate the actions they take

Source: Kantar Global Issues Barometer 2022 Wave 4


Addressing consumer concerns with real steps is one way that brands can demonstrate empathy and solidarity with their audience. However, avoid generic sentimental claims. “We’re all in this together” doesn’t cut it as we have seen during COVID-19 lockdowns.

4. Defend your brand’s difference and meaning

As consumers look to cut costs, higher-priced brands are having a more difficult time defending their price position. A brand’s meaningful difference is essential to drive pricing power. To command a premium price, brands must be meaningful and different in the eyes of their audience.

It is more difficult for higher-priced brands to defend their price position

Chart showing it is difficult for higher price brands to defend their price positioning

Source: Kantar Link database


Based on an analysis of all the global ads in our Link database, we now see a noticeable drop in difference scores for super premium brands (brands with at least twice the price of others in the category), therefore, there is also a decline in their pricing power. Communication that clearly delivers a meaningfully differentiating message will help to defend the brand choice of your brand in the current environment.

Crises do not change the importance of creative quality, if anything, emphasize it. Support your brand with quality creative that connects with consumers. Strong brands can not only survive but thrive in a crisis.

Watch the full on-demand webinar – What marketers need to know now for strategic planning to inform your planning during inflationary times. And get in touch to find out more.

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