Marketing during a recession presents its own set of challenges. Oftentimes when recessions strike, marketing budgets are cut. Ad buying, for example, is expected to drop by possibly 13%.
While some companies may lower their marketing budgets during a health and economic crisis, this pullback also creates new and unique opportunities for others.
Brands have thrived in past recessions by repositioning themselves, projecting stability, providing savings, and increasing their “share of voice” while other brands are quiet. Changing their approach in these and other ways have made it unnecessary to cut back, and have even positioned companies for success during and after the recession.
The 2020 recession hit just as yearly social media advertising spends were hitting an all-time high of $36 billion in 2019. This was quickly followed by the onset of COVID-19, which led to a 32% increase in social media usage. With this in mind, companies marketing during a recession have made social and digital media a cornerstone of their strategy.
Here are seven examples and strategies of brands investing in social media and influencer marketing campaigns to capitalize on opportunities presented by the recession.
Swiffer Pets designed an Instagram campaign that provided savings — great for recession marketing — and amplified their brand voice. The savings came from a program they created with the Animal League to provide $50 off pet adoption feeds. The amplification happened by sponsoring a large number (40) of micro, mid-tier, macro, and mega Instagram pet influencers with over 2 million followers.
This contrasted with the company’s usual influencer marketing on Instagram, which was not focused on a specific initiative, but instead showed lifestyle shots of influencers using the products. The pet adoption campaign used a strategy that other marketers can replicate: creating a powerful, timely offer, focusing the messaging on the promotion, then working with a broad cross-section of pet influencers to target their animal-loving audiences.
Each post in the campaign included a detailed description of Swiffer’s adoption fee program, along with the hashtags #GetPetReady and #GetYourRescueOn. Images focused on pets at home with Swiffer Pet products.
Pet influencers like Harlow and Sage (1.7 million followers), Popeye the Foodie Dog (416K followers), and Lee Asher (275K followers) contributed to the campaign’s 1.5 million video views, 1 million likes, and 3.4% engagement.
Clothing brand Aerie has long worked with “real” models without airbrushing to sell their line. During the 2020 recession, the brand took the opportunity to adapt this strategy to a new platform, TikTok, which also elevates realness over perfection.
One tactic advertisers use to reach TikTok’s audience is sponsoring a dance challenge with influencers. To put their own spin on the dance challenge, TikTok commissioned a new original song and asked participants to list three positive things that they’re grateful for right now. Aerie explained, “You get to share some love, pay it forward, and have fun all in one shot.”
Before April 2020, Aerie had little presence on TikTok, but this initial campaign captured 2 billion views and helped lifestyle retailer build its TikTok follower base. Testing both a new approach and channel (in this case a dance challenge on TikTok) can be a powerful strategy to try during a recession, especially when fewer companies are competing for audiences online.
The #AerieREALPositivity campaign used a small but targeted group of official influencers and also left room for plenty of “real,” homegrown responses.
Aerie partnered with TikTok’s most popular creator, Charli D’Amelio (67 million followers), plus-size model Denise Mercedes (1.9 million followers) and body positivity advocate Iskra Lawrence (876K followers) along with environmental artist Manela Baron, paralympian Brenna Huckaby, and DJ Tiff McFierce. Though the last three were smaller influencers with less than 10K followers, their videos each received over 50K views.
Stacey McCormick, senior vice president of marketing at Aerie, told Adweek that TikTok was now a cornerstone of their marketing strategy. TikTok drove traffic to their website and other social channels and also boosted sales. Aerie reported a 75% increase in sales during Q1 2020 — a “real” recession marketing success story.
Dollar Shave Club’s effort to amplify their brand voice with humor during the 2020 recession harks back to the viral videos that launched the brand in 2011. Marketers looking to stand out from quieter competitors during a recession can use this strategy: in-your-face content plus popular influencers to it give it greater volume.
Dollar Shave Club’s March 2020 Instagram campaign focuses on influencers and their partners, assistants, spouses, and kids encouraging audiences to get a double pack razor rather than sharing one razor — because sharing razors is gross. The campaign photos were sometimes gross as well, but others leaned on the sweeter side.
For example, the razor company tapped mega influencer David Dobrik (13 million followers) and his assistant Natalie Mariduena (4 million followers) to post a friendly shot with just a dash of snark in the caption. Dobrik and Mariduena’s followers engaged with their posts at an 13% and 18% rate respectively.
Other heavy-hitters like Savannah Rose LaBrant (6.4 million followers) went cute with a family shot and Coco Austin (3 million) went spicy with her photo with husband Ice-T.
The campaign also included mega tier meme accounts like Middle Class Fancy (1.5 million followers) and Neat Dad (1.5 million followers. In addition to racking up over 3 million likes and a 5.87% engagement, the campaign garnered press attention for it’s can’t-unsee-it depiction of razor sharing.
When Dove Men + Care sponsored the film “Dad” in 2019 they didn’t know a downturn was coming. Yet they decided to go ahead and launch the documentary on Father’s Day 2020 with the recession still going strong.
The “Dads” film and promotion successfully leveraged a variety of influencers for their cause-based marketing campaign. The company explained, “A percentage of Dove Men+Care’s profits from the film will support our Paternity Leave Fund, raising awareness of the importance of paternity leave — and giving fathers everywhere their chance to step into the role of a lifetime from day one.”
The campaign asked 16 #DoveMenCarePartner influencers to post about their own experiences of fatherhood, along with a description of the film. Most of the influencers were micro to mid-tier. For example, Mike Quinones’s (15.1K followers) portrait holding his infant earned a 12.4% engagement rate, significantly higher than the campaign’s average of 7%.
Some of the bigger influencers included Devon from Dad ‘N Daddies with 206K followers and PJ & Thomas with 354K followers. Both saw considerable engagement, with PJ & Thomas receiving 27K likes for their post. Strong response rates such as these illustrate that the product, cause, messaging, and influencers were well-aligned.
During the 2020 recession Bounty changed up it’s marketing approach with its #QuickerPikerUpper dance challenge on TikTok.
Bounty ads usually focused on parents using paper towels to clean up messes. The ads focused on the absorbency of the towels more than the people. In this campaign, Gen Z influencers wore Bounty green, did a quick dance or skit, and the paper towels played a supporting role.
Despite the shift, or maybe because of it, Bounty gained over 48 million views for the hashtag. Other brands can use this template in tackling the recession: reach new audiences on different channels with fresh creative.
Bounty chose influencers with large followings, with Addison Rae (48 million followers) leading the way with 24 million views. Savannah LaBrant (21 million followers) and Cole LaBrant (15.3 million followers) accounted for an additional 15 million views.
The challenge caught on, with over 21,000 TikTok users creating their own videos to the sponsored jingle. It shows that an established product can gain traction on a newer platform if the approach, strategy, creative and talent fit.
With its #MakeTheDaysCount campaign on Instagram and YouTube, Gatorade demonstrated that it could reposition its brand from stadiums to backyards, and still retain the core of their messaging.
The drink company has produced beautiful, star-focused ads for 50-years that inspire consumers to work up a sweat. The #MakeTheDaysCount campaign took that idea closer to home. It shows pros doing simple workouts in their bedrooms and garages that everyday folks could easily replicate. This campaign used a strategy that other marketers can repeat: adapt their usual aspirational campaign advertising for something more relevant for the times and home focused.
#MakeTheDaysCount features 40 top athletic trainers and athletes on Instagram, and 30 on YouTube. Some of the participants’ names were big, like tennis champion Serena Williams and the NFL’s Kenneth Murray. Others were strength and conditioning coaches from the Denver Nuggets and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Instagram, the videos have received over 220K views and 54K likes with an additional 24K views on YouTube, proving even the biggest brands during a recession can connect with audiences with just a backyard, ball, and camera.