Can Your Brand Afford NOT To Advertise?

I think I have read at least a dozen opinion columns advising brands not to stop advertising during the current reign of multi-crises, from the pandemic resurging to the economy teetering on the brink, from police reform to ways to jumpstart the discussion about systemic racism. Meanwhile, the nation is utterly without leadership at the federal level. 

The general line of reasoning is that when you don’t advertise, you could lose market share to competitors who continue to advertise. And if your brand isn’t active, it will fall from being top of mind when consumers open their pocketbooks. 

Naturally, all the authors who advocate for continued (or even more) spend work for companies that benefit from more ad spending. Duh.    

So it was amusing to read that with “zero marketing whatsoever,” Airbnb is seeing customers return to the brand at levels equivalent to 2019 in the pre-pandemic world. Airbnb CEO and founder Brian Chesky says, “At the end of May to early June, we have the same number of bookings as the year before, without any marketing.”



You might argue that Airbnb has less competition than, say, Tide or Coke, or that its product is is more attractive to travelers these days than hotels and airlines, and is benefiting from a shift in consumer choice toward being able to better control their lodging environments. This, of course, has more to do with the pandemic than the weak economy.

UK-based PIMS Associates reports that “Multiple research studies have shown that cutting advertising does long-term damage to your business. Companies that cut spending can expect a slower recovery when the economy improves and a decrease in sales and income over the next two years.” Adds the ARF: Investment in marketing during a recession is strongly associated with positive shareholder value, customer loyalty, and long-term profitability.”

So here’s a wild thought: With municipalities under pressure to reopen their local retail economies, are brands that stayed active during the initial shutdown partly to blame for the current COVID resurgence, since they encouraged consumers to get out and buy? Was continuing to celebrate and encourage the consumer economy a socially responsible thing to do?  

It would indeed be a wonderful world if the moment audiences saw your ad, they dropped everything and headed for a retail store or showroom and became buyers. But more likely, you are reinforcing their already subconscious perception of your brand so hey will reach for it without thinking when they get around to it. 

But don’t listen to me -- listen to the “experts” whose livelihoods are dependent on brands continuing to spend. 

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