Under normal circumstances, fmcg brands can advertise without fear of causing much fuss. Unless, of course, they deliberately choose to run the gauntlet on a political or social issue. Like PepsiCo’s ad accused of trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement, or Gillette’s attempt at taking on toxic masculinity.
Now, though, during these most tense of times, it’s easier for suppliers to come a cropper when promoting themselves. Even a small, charitable PR stunt has the potential to be divisive. Just ask Krispy Kreme, which has come under fire from some quarters for donating 1,500 doughnuts to the NHS (enough for roughly 1/1,000th of the service’s workforce).
The problem is, there’s no right or wrong way during the pandemic for a supplier to approach marketing and advertising.
Coca-Cola, for example, has chosen to suspend all ad activity – a decision it didn’t make even during the Second World War. “In light of the serious situation everyone is facing with regard to coronavirus, we don’t believe it would be appropriate, or consistent with the current challenges and uncertainty for our consumers, to continue with the planned marketing of our brands,” Coke’s GB arm announced in March.
On the flipside of the coin, household giant P&G has ramped up its ad spend. CFO Jon Moeller told investors this month: “There is a big upside here in terms of reminding consumers of the benefits that they’ve experienced of our brands and how they served their and their families’ needs, which is why this is not a time to go off-air.”
P&G’s decision bucks the current trend among businesses. UK marketing budgets have declined at their fastest rate in more than 10 years, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising reported last week.
Not that all fmcg players have gone the Coke route. Many continue to advertise – sometimes while even bearing in mind advice from the Kantar Global Covid-19 Barometer. Of the people it surveyed, 75% believed brands “should not exploit the Covid-19 situation” to promote themselves.
Hence the growing interest in Good-Loop. It offers ‘ethical ad-tech’ that makes a charitable donation each time a consumer watches or interacts with an online advert. Fmcg players both big and small – from Nestlé to the Boots personal care brand Soap & Glory – have signed up.
For those unmoved by such hifalutin solutions, the web is rich with simple suggestions on how to manoeuvre amid the coronavirus crisis: be authentic; don’t cause panic; address people’s financial concerns; focus on the products they need most. It’s good, commonsense advice highly unlikely to cause a fuss.
He joined the magazine in January 2016 as food & drink editor, having been at financial & legal publisher LexisNexis for eight years.
He began his journalism career in the mid-1990s at a general interest magazine in Sheffield.
Follow Daniel on Twitter: @danielmcselwood