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Brands Should Think Twice About A ‘Media Hiatus.’

A great deal of discussion has revolved around the notion of holding back advertising across various media as coronavirus continues to cripple much of the economy. A new Nielsen study, “Media Hiatus Impact,” addresses three vital vendor questions: What will happen to volume/share if I go off-air for an extended period of time? How does this compare to what would have happened if I remained on-air? If I go off-air, what can I expect when I return to advertising?

Nielsen leans on a case study to provide answers to these questions. “It relies on an exceedingly rare combination of atypical marketer actions and novel measurement techniques to deliver answers that would be otherwise impossible,” the study notes. The big picture: Vendors might want to think twice about pulling their messaging; there are signs that long-term damage may result.

Following the financial crisis of 2008, a major marketer made the decision to pull all national media, while continuously providing robust media support in key local markets. After several years of being out of national media, the marketer resumed national advertising.

What Nielsen found is that “the impact of removing advertising was dramatic. In the markets where advertising had been continuous, consumers who by chance were unexposed to the new campaign had their brand share decline by about 15%. By contrast, brand share stayed flat among consumers who were exposed.”

Nielsen offers: “The notion that purchasing was flat among ad-exposed illustrates an interesting phenomenon: that sometimes the role of advertising is to preserve the volume you already have, with significant negative consequences if you go on hiatus.”

Further, in markets where the company’s advertising was just returning to air, brand share continued to decline among unexposed consumers, at a rate of about 5%. And those consumers who were exposed to advertising for the first time in years were slow to return to the brand. In the first few months after advertising returned, exposed consumers declined in brand share at the same pace as unexposed consumers. Only after a few months did exposed consumers start to behave differently from unexposed consumers.

Nielsen observes that “brand loyals were most vulnerable to changes in advertising exposure. A reasonable hypothesis may have been that loyals, with a high affinity for the brand, do not require advertising to continue purchasing. In this case, the data bear out that loyals were far more likely to decline in brand share when left unexposed to media than were non-loyals.”

The implications of Nielsen’s case study—as it advises those vendors still on the fence about their media budgets as the pandemic continues—is that “marketers considering suspending media will want to be prepared that a hiatus may damage brand shares, possibly dramatically.” The study adds, “History shows that brands often turn to short term sales drivers (promotions and/or incentives) to compensate, but many marketers would relate that these efforts can further erode brand equity.”

In addition, gains from returning to air may be slow to materialize. “Consumer purchase decisions that were automatic in the past are now being reconsidered, and over time, changes to purchase behaviors may become embedded as new automatic decisions, (thus) making recovery even more challenging.”

Nielsen stresses that in its case study, neither maintenance of media nor return of advertising created marked share growth: It only prevented share loss. “Marketers that are unable to escape significant advertising cuts will want to make special efforts to retain their loyals. If limited media is necessary, coupling it with strong targeting efforts may help minimize potential negative consequences of the media declines.”

In conclusion, Nielsen summarizes: Turning off media created a sharp decline of about 15% in brand share. After turning their campaign back on, it took a few months for the declining share to stabilize. And brand loyals were more vulnerable to the effects of going dark, not less.

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