How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted marketing?

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted marketing?

At a recent meeting of The Debating Group, Morag Cuddeford-Jones supported the motion that the pandemic had actually been good for marketing but there were also many revelations on the health of the industry.

Looking around at the privations society has suffered over the last year, I appreciate that asking if the pandemic has been good for marketing might seem like getting turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Of course the pandemic has been a trial. It has been devastating on a personal level for hundreds of thousands of people and sent a torpedo through business and the global economy. The pandemic itself is a very, very long way from being a good thing.

However, as I supported the motion proposed by the Advertising Association’s Stephen Woodford at the latest of The Debating Group’s sessions: “The pandemic has been good for marketing”, I discovered many things.

Firstly, that this wasn’t simply an exercise in honing my debating skills, I truly believed in the motion. Because out of the many negatives have come an array of positives.

As marketers, we have discovered what agile really means, and how well we can pull together and work under pressure. Our opposers, Liz Jones, founder of executive search and talent business, Conker, and Dino Myers-Lamptey, founder of The Barber Shop, averred that the remote working and lack of person-to-person contact was suffocating creativity. You’ll get no argument from me on that score.

And yet, from the pandemic came some great creative ideas. Heinz created a direct-to-consumer model for the first time in its history, in around three weeks. Brewers and perfumiers switched overnight to making hand sanitizer. There was great, authentic creativity all over the place.

Of course, there were also some duds with their fair share of empty messaging, trite communications or out and out bandwagon jumping. I’ll spare their blushes here. But even in this there was the opportunity to draw a positive. Suddenly the industry was oozing with great examples of what it really means to have a brand purpose. Through the crucible of the pandemic, time seemed to condense meaning marketers could see the impact their campaigns were having pretty quickly.

I could rave on and on about the positives marketing could extract from the pandemic and if you visit The Debating Group website, the recording of my whole 8 minutes of doing so will be available shortly, along with the eloquent contributions from Stephen, Liz and Dino.

But I would be a fool not to listen to Liz and Dino’s arguments, and not just because their facts and eloquence ultimately defeated the motion.

I am a natural optimist who defaults to looking on the bright side, but the negative impacts of the pandemic cannot be ignored. Liz spoke to the high levels of burnout and redundancy experienced particularly by women and by older marketers. Budgets fell through the floor and whole sectors were decimated. It will take them years to recover, if they do so at all.

Initiatives that required that little bit more focus in ‘peacetime’ found themselves sidelined or even going backwards as organisations switched their attention to simply staying afloat. Liz pointed out that diversity and inclusion, never something the sector excelled at, have been materially impacted by the pandemic.

Dino added that the pandemic was increasing inequalities – driving yet more revenue into the ecommerce giants at the expense of independent, unique businesses. Creatives, as I’ve already mentioned, struggled in isolation. And there was definitely a whiff of too much thinking from ‘people like us’. With shades of ‘did you have a good war’, those of us with spacious sitting rooms, a handy spare room and a nice little bit of garden to escape to had a dramatically different experience to younger marketers, urban-bound, stuck in flat-shares far from family with little or no extra space to breathe.

After the debate, do I still believe the pandemic has been good for marketing? I believe there has been some opportunity for marketing, and for marketers who have been in a position to embrace that. But we all need to work hard on our empathy chips. Other companies, other marketers have had it tough – really tough. As we emerge, we need to make sure we don’t just set off on new projects, fired up with enthusiasm for newly blended ecommerce/bricks and mortar models or side hustles. We need to put our arms around our more vulnerable members. We need to realise our privilege where we have it and put it to work in the service of others. Because we don’t succeed unless we all succeed.


Last month CIM launched MyDevelopment, a personal development platform to help our members take control of their career and achieve their professional goals. Access these learning resources now via MyCIM, or sign up to become a member today.

Morag Cuddeford-Jones Editor, Catalyst magazine CIM
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