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Stay the Course: Strategy for CPG Brands in the Coronavirus Climate

27 Mar 2020 Marjorie Powers

in Media, Digital, Strategy

Though the reaction to COVID-19 has played out differently across the U.S., last week was a true turning point in which social distancing skyrocketed and many businesses ground to a halt. The suddenness had brands reacting quickly on all business fronts, with an initial impulse to cut all expenses as a means of protecting liquidity. For certain industries—travel, for example—that’s a good idea; CPG brands, however, cannot afford to lose their relationships with consumers at this time. Humans are built on connections; this moment is one for building upon or establishing new connections—and primarily through media, as we all physically separate. As marketers, we can improve user experience with media, understanding that interactions with brands now will affect purchase behavior in the post-corona world. As I help guide our CPG clients through this unprecedented event, I am focused on data, creating an impact, a longer-term approach, and providing consumers with what they are looking for.


Per the 4A’s research on current consumer attitudes, “43% of respondents said it’s ‘reassuring’ to hear from brands they know and trust, while 40% want to hear what brands are doing in response to the health crisis.” Regarding crisis response messaging, that communication can range from how brands are safeguarding their workers from the virus, how they are supporting hourly employees, or how they are improving their cleaning procedures. Noted one member of our proprietary research community: “I have received tons of emails from companies assuring us of what they're doing to prioritize our and their workers safety and health, which I love.” The present moment is for reassuring consumers, while simultaneously reinforcing your brand’s role in their lives.


CPG brands should also continue investment right now because product demand is surging. We do not recommend in-store efforts such as sampling or promotions; they would tax already over-worked in-store staff and are simply not necessary—products in grocery stores do not need in-store marketing to sell right now. Instead, our team recommends re-directing budgets from expensive in-store programs into video. Unsurprisingly, in-home media consumption (social, digital, video) is up significantly, with Nielsen predicting video to increase approximately +60%. In terms of our own clients, so far (March 11th – March 24th) video completion rates have remained strong at over 60%, CTRs have risen by over 30%, and CPCs have dropped by 22% on social.

Media via social, digital, and video channels activated now builds a bridge of brand awareness and relevance as we work past this challenging period. As budgets are re-directed into these channels, we recommend removing store locator and “shop now” messaging; again, short-term in-store sales are not the present goal of media. An additional caveat: mindful messaging is key and brands need to really consider their creative from all angles. That said, make measured decisions, rather than drastic ones, and keep thinking long-term.


Consumers shifting their physical interactions into digital ones is sending demand for social, digital, and video media soaring. As a result, brands can build strong relationships with consumers now. We recommend—responsibly—to say something new, try something different and, above all, be there for consumers. Consider too how, in the current collective mood, food and beverage brands can support two key issues: the restaurant business and Americans needing food assistance. Common sense, helpful initiatives like those provide benefit now and later as we, intelligently, move through the present moment.


Our team at Stella Rising is providing frequent thought leadership pieces on how brands can respond to the current moment. Our strategies and insights are powered by advanced analytics, robust consumer research, and a thorough understanding of how media builds long-term brands.

Media Digital Strategy