Case Study: Three Major Brands Boost Ad Spend in Uncertain Global Marketplace

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Knowing what to do in a crisis is a skill learned and honed over a lifetime of experience. The steps to deftly and successfully steer a brand through a global quarantine and lockdown are hardly going to be found in that dusty managerial handbook you’ve got stuffed at the back of your bookshelf. A few weeks ago, we posted that though a reduced ad spend may seem to be the correct play, there is plenty of evidence and real-life success stories of brands who have done just the opposite and found success that has resounded through the ages. Still not sure about that advice? Three of the world’s biggest companies have outlined their increased ad spend plans despite the current fluctuating marketplace. Backed by information from in-depth financial reports, they’re outlining all of the market hot spots they’re ready to focus on as they pivot their businesses to fit the ever-evolving question mark of the year that has been 2020.


For the rest of 2020 (despite whatever the universe has in store for us next!), you can count on seeing a lot from the folks at McDonald’s. They’re planning to boost their ad spend by about $200 million. Chris Kempczinski, president and CEO, says the focus of their marketing efforts in the future will be on affordability and value. A must, as people around the world still face a total or partial loss of income. After a downturn in sales due to lockdown and shelter-in-place orders, Kempczinski says their focus will shift to “the three Ds: drive-thru, delivery, and digital.” These factors have reportedly helped lift their slumped sales as dine-in facilities were closed at the height of the pandemic and still remain tightly monitored.


Not one to sleep on excellent marketing opportunities, Coke’s marketing focus going forward is shifting to be even more customer-oriented. Creating an efficient and practical experience for customers is the main priority, and their first stop is creating an “end-to-end” digital strategy that is in play at all times. Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey knows just what to do. For Coke to stay on top, they need to have “the right level of investment to drive [the] top-line growth.”

Coca-Cola is a ubiquitous presence in the advertising world and the beverage world. Their response says a lot about the state of quite a few industries. For advertising, it conveys a cautious optimism that things are on the way back to a semblance of normalcy. Many of Coca-Cola’s main points-of-contact with consumers are still closed or limited—movie theaters, sports matches, and significant stadium-worthy events in general. Restaurants around the world continue to struggle. Nonetheless, Coke shows the importance of flexibility and customer commitment that can hardly lead them astray.

“As we look to the second half of the year, I think the name of the game is to stay flexible and adapt as quickly as possible. As we see the shape of the recovery taking place around the world, there are opportunities to step up, to step back up our investment levels,” says John Murphy, CFO of Coca-Cola.



Unilever CFO Graeme Pitkethly says they have put a “significant investment” towards COVID-related messaging since lockdown rules have started to morph into various stages of re-opening around the world. Though consumer spending has changed and most definitely lessened in some marketplace sectors, Unilever CEO Alan Jope claims a 62% increase in the second quarter of 2020. “We’ve stopped out-of-home advertising. We’ve eased back advertising to people in severely locked down areas who were unable to shop […] But by contrast, our brands are communicating digitally with messages that are relevant for lockdown living, things like stay inspired, home barbecue seasons and the summer staycation messages that I’m sure many of you will be familiar with.”

One of the highlights for us from Unilever’s new marketing approach is Pitkethly’s claim that they are finding how efficient it is to reuse previous campaign assets. By updating the messaging or the image, they can have a new campaign that is more applicable to their customers’ new everyday realities. This approach is essentially a campaign refresh, and we are big fans of refreshes! It’s such a great way to get the latest information out the door much faster and cost-efficient as you get to reuse costly campaign assets repeatedly.


It seems no matter your size or product offering, marketing right now comes down to being able to connect digitally with your customers with a relevant message and the ability to deftly pivot your business to meet your clients in the right places.

An interesting note in all three of these instances is that they have all silently pulled out of Facebook advertising. Facebook advertising has faced a growing backlash and boycott call amidst demands the platform more carefully vet racist and misinformation on the platform.

Our advice? Stay focused, stay flexible, and remain committed to creating a unique and digital experience for your clients.