Brand building in a crisis

by Jon Harper
Brands & Media

How much have brands had to adapt in this crisis year? On the face of it, massively. Look more deeply though and our tracking has revealed that what was important before COVID-19 has remained important during the pandemic. Brands which followed the principles of good brand building put themselves in the best position to survive (and even thrive) at a time of increased scrutiny.

Be clear on what you stand for, credibly and tangibly help

Brands must ensure they have a clear role in people’s lives and live their purpose. If you did not have a clear position and showed how you were helping people in the prevailing context, brand equity suffered.

For instance, in the banking sector many banks that showed they were acting in the best interest of their customers during the crisis saw a rise in consideration as they showed empathy to people’s financial circumstances. By contrast, we saw some smaller players flounder because they lacked a clear brand position at this stage of their development. Their customer-centric brand associations plummeted as a result.

Man wearing mask at a ATM

There is a proven link between achieving an ‘Excess Share of Voice’ and market share growth

Invest to maintain and grow your network of relevant associations

Crisis tempts brands to tighten their belts, with media budgets an obvious candidate for cost-cutting. However, we know from Binet and Field’s work that there is a proven link between achieving an ‘Excess Share of Voice’ (excess share of voice, ESOV, refers to whether a brand’s advertising spend is above or below their market share)1 and market share growth.

Looking at an example from a brand working in the energy sector highlights the importance of maintaining an ESOV before and during the pandemic. We saw one of the category disruptors invest in advertising and, by doing so, deliver dramatic increases to their SOV year-on-year, resulting in huge gains in brand measures (such as the number of potential customers that would consider the brand) and customer acquisition throughout 2020. Their investment allowed them to promote messages which aligned with changing market needs during the pandemic, around customer service and trust. Some of the more established brands suffered because they had not been investing prior to the crisis and then did not pivot to more relevant messages during it.

The pandemic made creative course correction necessary, both in execution and production. In the rush to communicate with consumers during the early days of lockdown, some brands judged the mood expertly, developing great creative which was distinctive, linked to existing equity in the brand (such as established brand associations) and demonstrated the role of the brand.

Others fell into a ‘sea of sameness’, lacking continuity with what went, in many cases, just weeks before. This similarity wasn’t just noticed by the marketing community,2 but also by consumers who quickly became fed up – 49% agreed that all the ads on the TV looked and felt the same.3


per cent of the British public agreed that all the ads on TV looked and felt the same

Every COVID-19 commercial is exactly the same

Lockdown revealed an appetite for ‘lighter’ and more humorous ads

Soon after lockdown started, we began a 10-week partnership with Thinkbox to understand how the pandemic was impacting British attitudes and behaviours toward TV and advertising.4 This revealed an appetite for ‘lighter’, more humorous ads (which still expressed a duty of care). Ads that established a human connection, showed people how to keep busy, improve their living space and stay safe were viewed as more impactful than overt selling, while allowing brands to distinctively show their role.

Lockdown TV: Are advertisers hitting the right tone?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatic and reminded brands of the value of being both agile in their activity and true to themselves to avoid being blindsided by changing consumer needs and behaviours. Tracking teaches us that, although some agility and contextualised reframing was required, the principles of good brand building still apply. If you were doing these before the crisis you were in a better position in the first place, and following them in a crisis gives your brand the best chance to survive – and maybe even thrive.

The principles of good brand building still apply

Jon Harper

Jon Harper

UK Head of Offer and Design


  1. Share of Voice (SOV) refers to the share of advertising spend a brand has in a defined category. Excess Share of Voice (ESOV) refers to whether a brand’s advertising spend is above their market share.
  3. Ipsos MORI, omnibus, all adults aged 18-75 in Great Britain, 8 – 11 May 2020.