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Creating an Advertising Strategy One Year After Lockdown


Things to consider when creating your marketing “Emergency Action Plan” in preparation for future crises.


  • Companies that decided to continue advertising during the 2020 pandemic benefited from a less crowded space
  • It was much harder for companies that paused advertising to get up and running again later in the year 
  • This helpful guide may help you to develop a marketing “emergency action plan” to make your difficult decisions easier to make in advance of a future crisis

I know what you are thinking. “I definitely need another “one year after” article in my life. Well, your wish is my command. But my hope is that this will be less a read-and-promptly-deleted recap and instead be something that you archive and revisit prior to or even during future times of extreme uncertainty. 

Now, let me preface this by saying that everyone’s situation is different. I am not putting a flag in the ground and saying “this is the way” like that famous intergalactic bounty hunter. I am saying that “this might be the way”, or at least “this is a way” for you to rethink how you navigate your marketing strategy and advertising spend when a crisis hits.

The advertising landscape in Q2 of 2020

There was a clear tangent that occurred in Q2 last year, right when the lockdowns started to go into effect. Most companies pulled their spending on advertising way back, slashing marketing budgets in an effort to protect the company as well as keep their employees on the job. But this was not universal. Some companies continued to spend advertising dollars, if not increase them. 

The companies that kept advertising through 2020 noticed something. They acquired new customers at an increasing rate. They received better-than-normal rates. They were also rewarded with major added value from networks as a thank you for staying on the air. What was the cause of this? It’s really quite simple. Just like city freeways during the pandemic, as fewer companies advertised, the brands that stayed on the air achieved greater visibility and faster paths to acquiring customers because there was less congestion in the marketplace.

Should I stay online or should I go dark?  

It’s the question every brand had to ask. It’s not an easy one to look at objectively when you are neck-deep in the moment of crises. But one method you can use to assess the best path forward is to look at the data based on what bucket you fit into—are you a brand or a performance-based advertiser? 

For brand advertisers, research shows there was a hit to awareness and unaided recall when advertising was pulled from major channels. The total media ad spending growth in the U.S. by April of 2020 reached its worst at negative 35 percent. This is where brands that doubled down on advertising spending made serious gains. 

Performance-based advertisers saw that CPAs for clients who stayed the course were less volatile. Advertisers who did the opposite, pulling their spend in Q2, experienced better efficiency due to drag from Q1. But in the second half, they experienced far higher CPAs because they had to essentially “restart the machine.”

Saving short term spend can have long term effects on your advertising ROI

Advertisers also cut their AM and FM spend. There is a misconception among brands that dropping this medium has no consequences. But as Westwood One outlined in this study, there are negative consequences in stopping radio spend

Many companies reduced advertising spend during the pandemic out of the necessity to survive, cutting out a channel that was perhaps the most expendable in their eyes. But in reality, terrestrial radio is one of the best channels to reach younger generations and maintain brand image while driving usage, consideration, and ad recall. All important things to keep money flowing during a crisis. 

And can you guess what medium people tune into most during times of crisis? It’s not TV, social media, or any other channel. Nielsen found that during the pandemic, Americans agreed that AM and FM radio was the most trusted source for relevant and up-to-date information about COVID-19.

No situation is the same, so plan accordingly 

I want to emphasize that I am not declaring winners or losers here. The realities of the lockdowns and the economic impact it had were terribly challenging for everyone to overcome. In all cases, tough decisions had to be made. 

What I want to offer is simply what I saw and the insights I gleaned so that you can walk away with a rough checklist of questions you should ask yourself and your team. This will help you make a more level-headed decision on how to proceed during future times of uncertainty.

Crisis advertising preparedness checklist

For me, it looked like the brands who stayed the course experienced fewer difficulties in the long run than those who had to stop and restart their campaigns. But your situation will be different than mine, make the choices that are best for you.

Below is a workflow you can use as an exercise. Treat this as an opportunity to revisit where you were last year, walk through these questions and see if the outcome would have been different than what you decided to do. If the outcome is different, then you can reassess that decision-making process so that you are better prepared for the future. 

Here’s what I would ask myself:

I hope you find this helpful. If you have any questions or would like to discuss an advertising strategy or crisis plan for your business, please reach out. We are here and ready to help you get the most out of your advertising dollars.


Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash