How Brands Can Use Their Voice During Time of Uncertainty

    woman eating a bar of chocolate

    By Stu Girgins, VP, Client Consulting, NCSolutions

    I had the opportunity to moderate a fireside chat at Brand Innovator’s Marketing Leadership virtual summit with Mark Wakefield, Ferrero’s SVP of Marketing for Nutella and Chocolate Snacks, along with his long-time creative partner, Tim Piper, Co-Founder of creative agency and production company, Piro.

    I work with CPG brands on their advertising effectiveness, so while we talk about the impact of creative frequently, it isn’t often that I get the chance to sit down with marketers on the creative side of the industry. Mark and Tim go way back to their time together producing films for Dove when Mark was with Unilever and Tim was at Ogilvy, so it was fun to see them riff off each other. One theme we explored that resonates with me and that directly ties to the advertising topics we’ve been discussing with our clients at NCS is brand voice. How important is brand voice? 

    With the world navigating a pandemic and times of great social change, what gives brands the right to be a part of these conversations?

    Ferrero’s Mark Wakefield said it’s not that brands have a right to be part of the conversation—it’s that they have a responsibility to be part of the conversation—to use their voice to be inspirational and aspirational—to lead change, while staying true to their brand. Ferrero sees their role as having a unique opportunity to bring some levity and optimism during a challenging period for America. Tim Piper made a good point: brands exist to serve consumers, so why not treat advertising the same way? Brands have earned a voice, given to them by consumers. So why not use that voice for good?

    Quote from Mark Wakefield, SVP of Marketing at Nutella, on how brands have a responsibility to play a role in shaping culture.

    In our own research at NCS, we’ve seen that Mark and Tim’s points for brands using their voice responsibly during rocky times isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s also the right thing to do for business. Since the pandemic has started, advertisers have grappled with a lot of questions on whether—and how—to advertise in this climate and what creative will resonate with today’s shoppers. 

    While it may be tempting to pull back advertising dollars in the face of the challenging pandemic economy, our research has proven time and again that the brands that have not only survived the pandemic—but have won and sustained loyal customers—are the ones that have consistently let their consumers know they are there for them. 

    Take this household care brand, for example. Though it experienced inventory and stock-out challenges at the height of Extreme Buying (March 11-21), instead of burying its head in the sand, the brand altered its campaign, running creative encouraging responsible consumption—acknowledging their supply chain challenges while letting their customers know they were working hard to get their products back on shelves.

    And it worked. The brand achieved 50% greater incremental sales from this ad compared to its other creative. When it was back on shelves, consumers reached for this brand over competitors’. Being real and honest with consumers while providing encouragement during this trying time was ultimately a successful strategy for this brand.

    NCS campaign data shows that a hand sanitizer brand drove higher sales from ad campaigns that acknowledged the pandemic.

    Here’s an example of a beer brand that used its brand voice to provide a completely different benefit to customers. By the time summer rolled around this year, Americans were worn down by the pandemic. So this brand stayed true to its roots and did what it does best: provide some levity with themes of celebration. It aired a campaign that focused on summer festivity, showing Americans flipping burgers and cracking open a cold one. 

    And again, for this brand—this approach worked: incremental dollars for this campaign was twice that of the other campaigns it ran.  

    NCS campaign measurement shows beer brand drove higher sales lift with patriotic, summer-themed ad that didn't address COVID

    The point is—brands have a responsibility to follow the national mood, listen to their customers, and communicate with them in a way that’s true to their brand and their values. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for a pandemic or during major times of change in America. Creative elements, and brands that bring them to audiences, have to find where they fit in under these unique times.

    Our data on elevated chocolate spend since the pandemic began shows that Americans are craving comfort foods that provide levity and emotional support during these times; which means that brands like Ferrero have more buyers to gain—but also more to potentially lose—if they don’t advertise effectively in a way that stands out from the competition. 

    NCS purchase data shows 2020 chocolate sales in the grocery story are greater than 2019 levels

    As consumers change how they grocery shop and how they consume media, brands have an opportunity to use the voice that their customers have bestowed on them. To learn more about how to use your brand voice to drive return on ad spend, check out our playbook for advertising during a pandemic. 


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