Wim Vermeulen

Managing Director Dentsu Consulting, Dentsu Aegis Network

As the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic start to come into view, it’s clear that we’re facing a major global recession.

Every decade has its recession, and as a result, there are economic models available to both businesses and consumers on how to manage the resulting uncertainty.

But a worldwide pandemic occurs every 100 or 150 years, which is far too wide a range for us to be able to have a manual on how to react. We're in uncharted territory.  

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen and how long it will take to recover. It also means that even if you’ve managed to escape the negative effects of the pandemic so far, there’s no guarantee you’ll avoid the economic consequences of the second phase of this crisis: the recession. Whereas at first, we thought the recession would be V-shaped, experts now believe we are facing a U-shaped recession. If we don't get the virus under control and there is the second outbreak in the autumn, and a new lockdown is needed to contain it, there is even a risk of a 'double-dip' or W-shaped recession.

If you’re a marketer, then you have to plan for every scenario, taking into account the drivers of demand. Whatever form the recession takes, you want your advertising to be as effective as possible. For my book, Marketing for the Mad (Wo)Men of Tomorrow, I researched which characteristics the most effective advertising campaigns have in common. I found three:

Creative cut-through

For brands to stand out, they need to cut through the noise. It's the kind of advertising that you only have to see once to remember, the ads that everybody talks about. An example of this are the John Lewis Christmas campaigns in the UK. Every year, there’s anticipation ahead of the campaign and then a huge amount of public and media discussion afterwards.

During times of crisis, it’s critical that brands find the right balance between being visible and genuinely serving their audience. When we consider effectiveness, there has to be a balance between long-term brand building and short-term activity. Nate Shurilla, Global Director of Commerce & Voice at iProspect,  recently touched on the importance of brands being genuinely additive, and it’s something all brands are going to have to consider in the wake of COVID-19.

Emotional connection

Successful advertising needs to resonate with its intended audience. Something happens when you see these ads - they might make you laugh or cry, but there is a connection.

As advertisers, it’s not always easy to decide to go with the emotional approach though, because if we’re trying to be convincing, by nature we tend to use rational arguments.

But advertising doesn't persuade. It builds mental availability. And to build mental availability, we need messages that stick. Rational arguments hardly stick - they pass. Emotions stick.

That's why we still remember that strong emotional moment 15 years ago - where we were when it happened and whether it was the morning or the afternoon, but we forget what we paid for the bread we bought that same morning.

But how can brands ensure they find these emotional hooks? It comes down to understanding their audiences’ wants and needs and who they are as people. Simon Gill, Chief Experience Officer at Isobar EMEA, has discussed why brands that build communities around their audiences are more likely to succeed in the long-term.


Lastly, great adverts are easy to recognise, which makes them easy to remember.  

I found the reason why in the work of Daniel Kahneman. He discovered that our brain takes three shortcuts when deciding on a brand:

  • Does the brand appear on my list when I think of a product or service?
  • How do I feel about that brand (positive or negative)?
  • Do I understand why this brand is better than the other brands?

Orlando Wood calls it the 3 ‘Fs’: Fame, Feeling, and Fluency. He found that how a brand scores on these 3 ‘Fs’ correlates strongly with their market share.

When we look at all three of these key factors together, we can see that creative cut-through increases your Fame, emotional connections increases Feeling and recognizability increases your Fluency.

During a recession, your advertising needs to be highly effective. Not only because every euro counts, but also because you want to be in the strongest position entering recovery.

We saw that this kind of advertising is possible during the lockdown. Most of the COVID-19 related campaigns had cut-through, made you feel something and were distinctive.

 I'm not saying that every ad still needs to be COVID-19 related, not at all. I'm just saying that we need maximum effectiveness, and that involves traditional activity like respecting the 60:40 brand building to sales activation rule (or the right balance for your industry), but also making sure your content has cut-through, emotions and distinctiveness.

Wim Vermeulen is the Managing Director at Dentsu Consulting, Dentsu Aegis Network. For more insights, you can listen to our #OnBrand Podcast where we talked about resisting the recession reflex. https://open.spotify.com/episode/30IwzOENyC48TGz27b9yiW?si=RH7XdnZOQRSm0zLYq9cScg