MAR K E T I N G
To go dark, or not go dark?
That is the marketing question
When Coca-Cola stops marketing in this pandemic induced recession, and most
cut back, should you follow their lead and take a break from marketing?
Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Marketing says now is the time to stay visible...
Companies like to present themselves as
rational, rooted-in-reality businesses
that base decisions on facts not
feelings. Big companies who don’t
like spooking their shareholder investors take
particular care to nurture this perception. But
it is a perception. Good sales and marketing
people know that’s half the story and it pays to
look deeper and appeal to the emotions as well.
People buy from people, and you don’t get rich by
In the last few weeks, one group of giant
corporates and global brands paused their
marketing while another increased their marketing
to take advantage of the opportunity! What’s going
on? Underneath the veneer of sophistication,
people were just being people. Some were
panicking, others were bold and ambitious. In the
Cut Camp, Coca-Cola stopped marketing, while in
the Great Opportunity Group, Proctor and Gamble
and Unilever pressed the accelerator. Proctor and
Gamble owns Gillette, Fairy, and Tampax. Unilever
owns Marmite, Pot Noodle, and Persil.
Why did one group cut and another steam
ahead? It’s easy to understand why they might
pause if they’ve been underperforming recently
and their sales have been hit, as Coca-Cola’s
have been (down % due to coronavirus and
associated lockdown). And it’s easier to see why
you might press-on if your sales are strong and
likely to gain from the pandemic, as both Proctor
and Gamble and Unilever’s are. But for many
companies, this an academic question. Their
markets are shut, and survival is a question of time
and cash flow.
However, most companies will survive, so the
question is where, and what shape do you want to
be in during the recovery and after.
After years of brand building, whatever
Coca-Cola decides to do in the short term
will have little impact on its brand awareness,
availability or desirability. Coca-Cola is strong
enough to cope with anything.
But that’s not the case with brands in this
industry. Even the strongest brands should
think twice before taking a pause. They too can
disappear quickly into the mists of time when they
The list of brands you once knew is a long one.
Who remembers the retail paint brand Berger?
It was number two after Dulux in the 8s
and spent £m a year on TV to keep it there.
Persuaded by an ambitious financial director
to take an advertising holiday, Berger stopped
advertising for a year and therefore added £m
to its profits. In the first year it lost some share as
B&Q reduced its shelf space, but the directors
loved the bottom line, so they did it again. But at
the end of year two, they were delisted by B&Q
because consumers had switched to other paint
brands. Berger never recovered and died soon
We’re in the strangest of times, in the middle
of a Government-enforced recession, cocooned
in temporary Government life support, with
forecasters quarrelling over the shape and timing of
recovery. Should we stop talking to the market and
bury our heads in the sand until markets recover?
What’s the evidence to support a decision to
stop talking and go dark, or not go dark? In fact,
there’s a lot of evidence from large scale research
that points unequivocally to the benefits of
marketing throughout recessions, from the s
on. The findings are consistent and conclusive.
Companies that increased their marketing in
recession grew sales much faster than their rivals,
both in recession and recovery. Companies
that decreased their spend saw sales decline in
recession and after. What is significant, is that
market share gains slowed during the recovery
when everyone else started marketing again.
There has also been a lot of research on why
marketing in recession is so rewarding. Most
companies cut in recession, and that reduces the
‘noise’ of other advertisers competing for attention
and increases the effectiveness of the advertising
of those that do. When the economy recovers
many more advertisers pile in so more advertisers
are competing for the same set of eyeballs. So, it’s
a lot harder to standout and be seen.
If you can afford it, now is the best opportunity
you’ll ever have to grow your share and
substantially improve your sales and profits.
Fortune favours the ambitious and bold, and
punishes those who go dark and silent.
"Even the strongest brands should think twice before taking
a pause. They too can disappear quickly into the mists of
time when they stop marketing"