Comment: Why it’s crazy to stop advertising in a downturn

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The collapse in advertising on mass media outlets, from TV and billboards to newspapers and magazines, is unprecedented. Even Twitter and Facebook are suffering (try not to sob).

ITV’s ad revenues have collapsed 42% as travel companies, shops and restaurants in lockdown feel there’s no point spending their money.

While that seems logical, it’s really not. And don’t just take that from a newspaperman.

A welter of independent studies show that, if you scrimp on ads in a downturn, you just end up having to spend more rebuilding your brand when the economy improves. A lot more. Because by then, all your rivals are jostling to get their name out there too.

Just ask McDonald’s, which lost out to Pizza Hut when it “went dark” in the 1990s recession, or Amazon, which went on an ad blitz for Kindle in grim 2009, leading to its ebooks outselling print by Christmas.

Some companies get it. ITV’s ad fall wasn’t actually as bad as feared because some brands stayed loyal. They may have changed the tone to chime with the times — supporting the NHS, perhaps — but kept their names out there.

Media companies are getting creative, too. ITV launched a competition for viewers to make their own versions of its clients’ ads. It’s canny, winning more public attention for the brand, filling ad breaks with fun content and getting close to the advertiser.

Honda is one. It’s barely sold a car in weeks, but will now be front-of-mind for families sitting at home thinking they’ll get a new car when all this is over. Clever Honda.


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