NEWS2 July 2020

Treat Covid-19 as a war not a recession, says Les Binet

Covid-19 Media News Trends UK

UK – Companies should treat the current Covid-19 crisis as they would a war rather than a recession, and not rely on lessons from the 2008 global financial crisis, according to Les Binet, group head of effectiveness at Adam&Eve DDB.

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Speaking in a webinar on his paper Navigating Covid-19: Survival, adaptation and recovery, Binet said that the current crisis was a supply-side crisis as much as one of demand, and that some previous analysis on how to respond to the pandemic was too "simplistic".

Supply-side recessions tend to be sharper, deeper and longer than demand crises, said Binet, adding that sales in some sectors had "fallen off a cliff" due to lockdowns, staffing issues and social distancing.

Treating the pandemic as a war might be better than comparing it to previous recessions, Binet said, highlighting the high death counts, rationing, increased government intervention, goods shortages and disruption to supply chains, and said that organisations should therefore act as they would if a war had been declared.

"The first thing to think about is how you can help the war effort," he explained. "During a humanitarian crisis, I would say that business and organisations, if they can do so, should maybe put short-term profit to one side for a while.

"This is one point where being a bit purpose-driven actually really makes sense and is quite meaningful. Companies might be in a position to help save lives and help save our way of life."

However, he added: "If morals and ethics don’t cut it with you, then do it because you will be judged and will be remembered, and this may have consequences for you later on."

It is therefore important to make sure marketing communications are both useful and uplifting, Binet noted. 

"During a crisis, the public will be much less forgiving of bad marketing. If you get this wrong, you might seem irrelevant, opportunistic, tone deaf or even evil. There is a role for organisations to do marketing to help people muddle through and feel a bit better."

Binet said that companies need to consider three things: how supply restrictions will evolve; how demand will change; and what will happen to costs as a result. Businesses should also be wary of advertising in ways that will increase short-term demand they would be unable to fulfil due to supply issues, and should position themselves for the recovery while dealing with existing problems.

"Too many marketers these days seem to think that marketing is about communications," he explained. "You need to use all the levers at your disposal to keep supply and demand in sync as the crisis evolves."

Companies that navigate this well could stand to benefit from the current situation, Binet added.

"Recessions are a tremendous time to gain market share at the expense of your competitors. Crises tend to be a time when consumer habits are in flux. People learn new habits, and when they learn new habits that is when they try new brands and also when they forget about old brands."

He added: "If your firm has the cash and the courage to maintain higher spend than their competitors, you can gain share of voice at muchly reduced price, as this is a great media buying opportunity."