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Practical tips for marketing in times like these

Herman Degener, The MediaShop

If your daily grind is remotely related to the marketing segment, you’ll probably agree that there is more ‘how to market in a recession’ research around than you can shake a stick at! Who does one turn to in times like these for advice, especially when there’s a cacophony of opinions? The short answer is a trusted advisor, and WARC is one such advisor.

Recent research from WARC forms the basis of this blog post which aims to provide a sense of comfort (in that we’re all in this together) and advice that is sound and practical. As Isla Prentis from our Tirisano Consulting division pointed out in her sobering post ‘ A lesson in humanity ’, we are all in the same storm, but in different boats.

There’s no one-size fits all solution here, no panacea. However, by weathering the same storm there are some useful nuggets of advice from the intellectuals over at WARC which I feel will provide a slightly elevated sense of ‘we’ve got this’ after reading them. So without further ado, here are five actions to take now as an advertiser: 

  1. Review your lockdown playbook.

The burning question in South Africa, and globally for that matter, is will lockdowns intensify again to combat future outbreaks of COVID-19? Using lessons learnt from the past can help a brand prepare for further recurrences. One of the big themes of the current lockdown has been acts over ads, but can brands sustain an altruistic approach?

Dale Partridge’s book ‘People Over Profits’ suggests this is a sustainable business strategy in a world of collaborative consumption, and perhaps one way to try and balance the two is for brands to invest in real actions, which consumers might applaud on social media (offline actions drive online conversations). 

  1. Keep advertising, if you can.

There is plenty of evidence from almost a century’s worthy of research to validate the notion that brands who maintain ad spend in recession, will prosper post-recession. Cutting too hard has long-term impact on sales, market share, growth and ROI. Those who maintain their spend not only proposer post-recession but also recover quicker as a result.

The advice to keep advertising won’t apply to all brands, however as the hardest hit companies will be focusing on saving jobs and business continuity. Here are a few tips for those brands that are fortunate enough to keep advertising:

  • Don’t panic and stop brand advertising unless you absolutely must. Media costs are lower and there’s less noise from competitive brands in your sector.
  • Maintain brand campaigns unless it jars with public mood. Use emotional, warm advertising that fits (and lifts) the public mood.
  • Look for tactical opportunities to create goodwill with customers: tap into first party data and seek to enhance the customer experience. Remember it costs 5 times more to gain a customer than to retain one. Random acts of kindness in times like this are certain to drive immense positive sentiment and earned media for your brand.
  1. If you have to reduce adspend, use other levers to remain visible:

Even outside of recessions, there are always levers to pull that are low cost, high reward opportunities for brands. One is the use of first party data (as alluded to above) to keep customers informed, remind them of seasonal events, and even to drive referrals and good old positive WOM (word of mouth). In addition, brands can also:

  • Use owned assets to communicate: it’s often less expensive to target your social media page’s followers than compete for new audiences. Noting the reality of low organic reach when a brand posts an update on social media, invest in ensuring your messaging is seen by more of your opted-in audience before investing in acquiring new audiences.
  • Consider PR and partnerships to generate earned media: consider partnering with other brands or influencers who have a mutual interest in solving a particular problem, with each bringing their own expertise or capital to the collaboration.

Leverage your brand’s equity to collaborate with your own audiences and relevant influencers to help solve an original content challenge. This is particularly useful when focusing your limited resources in the build-up to key selling seasons. 

  1. Look for signs of new habit formation:

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have given rise to all manner of new consumer behaviours, chief among them being online. This is especially prevalent amongst older consumers who are adopting online shopping. The time it takes to form a new habit and the time we’ve been in lockdown are not mutually exclusive, so there are definitely opportunities for consumers to try new brands and/or products. This is because the pandemic mirrors the psychological traits where people are more likely to try new brands when they go through a life changing event, such as marriage, a new job or the birth of a child.

A strong initial experience can help cement these new habits. This could range from free delivery of goods bought online, unexpected bonuses for new customers (akin to my point above about making your existing customers feel extra special is always a winning strategy), or information about how your brand is helping frontline workers during the crisis.

All these actions can create a positive memory for new and existing customers alike which they will recall as and when we enter recovery. 

  1. Innovate, or die (and no, discounting is not innovation).

As the saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and never before in the modern era has innovation, or ‘out of the box’ thinking, been so needed both on the supply and demand side (no I’m not talking about the programmatic media buying ecosystem). WARC cautions that discounting is not innovation and it can lead to long term damage to your brand plus it creates downward pressure on margins. Rather rethink what value your brand creates for consumers; here are some key questions to ask when revising price in a recession:

In closing

Given the current, or at least inevitable recession, being driven by a pandemic and not an economic event, the impact is being felt across the entire value chain, from supply through to demand. Even where there has been demand, many brands have simply not been permitted to service it.

As the cliché goes ‘this too shall pass’ and The MediaShop and our sister companies throughout the Nahana Group are here to help you navigate your way through and out of this crisis. From content and creative solutions to brand PR and our very own relationships with South Africa’s media owners, we can help you say… “We’ve got this!”

 *For a copy of the WARC document “The WARC guide: Marketing in the COVID-19 Recession”, which informed this Blog post, please free to drop me an email at

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We’re facing a new way of connecting with consumers

Victor Koaho, Business Unit Manager, The MediaShop

The world is currently experiencing the worst pandemic and economic downturn seen in the past 75 years. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused serious economic ramifications not only for South Africa but for the world at large. This has been exacerbated by the fact that governments around the world have encouraged their citizens to socially distance themselves in order to ensure that the rate of infections is reduced, and to avoid more people contracting it.

This measure however has led to most non-essential businesses and products from not being available in the community, causing most of their suppliers to also close for a long period of time. This means some of the employees of these institutions are now unable to draw salaries and thus unable to participate and contribute toward our ailing economy.

All industries have been dealt a blow and have had to re-look their business models for new ways of doing things. The media industry has been dealt a blow as well, with some epic media institutions having to close down. One of the largest publishers of magazines, some as old as 100 years, are shutting down, and will not be able to print going forward. This means that advertisers will no longer use these platforms to connect with ardent and loyal readers. The Outdoor or Out of Home industry has experienced the same with clients questioning whether or not to continue advertising on billboards, because the audiences they were trying to reach are no longer moving around outside their homes.

On the flip side, some mediums have seen an upsurge and an influx of audiences. These have largely been digital and social media platforms. This influx has been attributed to crowd-sourcing engagement in the form of DJ’s hosting social distancing live parties where audiences can party without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Similarly, a lot of consumers who like to keep fit, have gone as far as sharing their exercise routines on social media and encouraging those in their circles to participate online. This phenomenon also has people sharing new ways of preparing food and recipes with online audiences and the social media community at large.

However in every good situation there will also be some bad apples. There are those who have shared recipes of making their own home brewed alcohol as is it no longer available for sale during this social distancing period. The number of unqualified journalists and political commentators have also been on the rise, with some of them sharing fake news largely based on unverified information.

So how do clients look at these phenomena and still connect with their consumers? They need to understand what makes their audiences tick and try and connect with them on the social platforms they’re most likely to be. But brands also need to be careful to not only try and make a sale but to be comforting and giving back to consumer in one way or another. Whether its brands giving advice or sharing recipes and even sometimes just talking about mental health to try and empower the consumers they serve. But staying dark and invisible in these trying times is not an option, because this tactic allows competitors to occupy the headspace of consumers and make them the preferred brand or product once their categories are once more made available. The old adage, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ rings true – so stay visible.

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The local newspaper footprint is evolving

In a bid to give local and national advertisers the most effective reach and a more effective solution for readers and brands, Caxton Local Media is evolving and adapting some of its local newspapers’ footprints.

The recent decision was made due to the current tough economic climate coupled with the company’s solution-driven response to these changes. By evolving the footprints of some of its local newspapers, the company is ensuring that it continues to produce top-quality, hyperlocal news for readers as well as delivering the right market at the right time and place to its advertisers.

Managing Director of Caxton Local Media and Commercial Printing, Jaco Koekemoer, explained, “Our industry, like so many others globally, has been hard hit by Covid-19 and its associated regulations and added to this, the company has incurred massive losses in advertising revenue since the beginning of the lockdown.”

It became very apparent to Caxton Local Media through recent, extensive and independent research that shopping patterns, buying behaviours and demographics of people living in some areas and communities have changed drastically in a very short time. Footprints of certain local newspapers in Gauteng metropolitan areas, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal needed to be adapted for the company to provide the best solutions for readers, customers and clients in these markets.

One example is in the North Eastern suburbs of Johannesburg where the North Eastern Tribune will no longer be published as an independent title. From 19 May, the footprint of the Tribune’s sister publication, the Rosebank Killarney Gazette, will be expanded to cover hyperlocal news in some North East Joburg suburbs and, therefore, the Gazette will also have an increased print order to accommodate these changes.

Just before the nationwide lockdown was implemented, Caxton Local Media bid farewell to its city-based publication, City Buzz, in Johannesburg’s CBD. This experimental publication to reach the student market in Braamfontein, Newtown, Maboneng and surrounds has not proven to be viable at this time.

“By streamlining our resources, we commit to deliver effective solutions for our customers by providing a better reach for local advertisers and national retailers,” concludes Koekemoer.

On behalf of:                           Caxton Local Media

Jaco Koekemoer

MD Local Media & Coldset Printing

+27 10 492 3366

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Digital Transformation was happening but then Covid-19 came along

Andrew Dabbs, Digital Media Strategist at The MediaShop

They said, “there is time”, “the investment in technology could be made next year” and that “things were not going to change overnight”, “consumer habits will remain the same”, “don’t change something that not broken” and then came COVID19.

The world has spun into absolute shock with global economies taking the brunt of the devastation. South Africa is providing relief to the tune of at least R500bn, while other countries like the UK announced an unprecedented package of government-backed and guaranteed loans to support businesses, making an initial £330 billion of guarantees available (R23 to £1 = R7,590,000,000,000Tn).

Business has been caught out more than ever before and the companies that held back on their digital transformation may not make it through 2020. But what is digital transformation?

According to Technopedia: “Digital transformation is the changes associated with digital technology application and integration into all aspects of human life and society. It is the move from the physical to digital”.

According to Mckinsey, “16% of respondents say that their organisations’ digital transformations have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes in the long term. An additional 7% say that performance improved but that those improvements were not sustained. In traditional industries like oil and gas, automotive, infrastructure and pharmaceuticals, digital transformation is even more challenging: success rates fall between 4% and 11%. Success rates also vary by company size. Organisations with fewer than 100 employees, say that their respondents are 2.7 times more likely to report a successful digital transformation than those from organisations with more than 50,000 employees.

It’s not a promising picture and this has been substantiated by the budget speech, UIF temporary relief, the Solidarity Fund, etc… so on a positive note, let’s consider which industries have successfully embraced digital transformation. In my opinion, the fitness/health and wellness industry is a leader in adopting technology. The myriad of online content covers anything from dieting to high intensity exercise, which can all link back to a virtual leader board if you require it for your medical aid. Virtual games can be created between you and your colleagues, friends, family or even people who have the same interest and live in an area around you. The applications and associated brands are endless who have connected individuals, built communities and collated databases based on goals, body weights and heart rates.

If we consider the pure shortage of live sport and the inability for people to connect at races and events right now, it’s been wonderful to see people running a virtual two oceans marathon and multiple other races around their houses or on treadmills. We’ve also been lucky enough to see with the world’s top cyclist competing on SS1 in a virtual tour .

Ultimately, technology is there for us to embrace and to make life easier, its time consuming and costly, but in the long run it might help you keep your doors open and keep customers engaged. Hopefully we didn’t hedge all our bets on their being another day to look at digital transformation.

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Caxton Local Newspapers return to SA homes

After a tumultuous couple of weeks, SPARK Media and Caxton’s Local Media division has been hard at work to ensure that all its local publications are once again being delivered to South African homes.

“Our local editors, journalists and support staff have been working around the clock to cover the stories and source relevant Covid-19 information appropriate to each community,” says SPARK Media’s CEO Gill Randall.

“Community news is known to command high levels of engagement amongst the hundreds of thousands of different South African population clusters, with new evidence pointing to the fact that our readers are now paying even higher levels of attention to printed products, during these disastrous times.”

SPARK Media’s commercial printing factories were able to re-open on 1 May meaning that consumers have already started receiving their pre-printed retail shopping inserts.

“We know from our research that these shopping deals play an important part in helping us plan our shopping lists,” says Gill. “There has never been a more important time than now to look for good deals and savings.

“We’re happy to back in action and would like to take this opportunity to thank our media agencies and advertisers for their ongoing support as we continue to get stronger and stronger.”


Established in 2015, SPARK Media, a division of CTP Ltd, are experts in retail and location-based marketing solutions. The company owns and represents an arsenal of print products that deliver locally relevant, effective audiences for advertising clients. SPARK Media are Strategic Partners in Audience Research and Knowledge and offer ‘Insights that Ignite’.

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A lesson in humanity

Isla Prentis, The MediaShop

We keep hearing that everyone is in the same boat. But it’s really not like that. We are in the same storm yes, but we are not in the same boat. Your ship can be shipwrecked and mine may not. Or vice versa.

The text above was the beginning of a social media post about COVID-19 but when I read it, it reminded me of life in 2020 – even prior to the global pandemic we find ourselves in at the moment. Not being in the same boat remains a universal truth – and COVID-19 is probably the most far reaching storm the world has seen in recent history. The storm and boat analogy has so many different layers but for the purpose of keeping this to the length of a blog, and not a book, I’m going to focus on the reality we face in South Africa – both in and out of lockdown.

So often during lockdown it has been those in metaphorical luxury yachts that have found loopholes or excuses to not comply while those in basic canoes sacrifice their livelihood to comply. So many complained about the crowding in Alexandra in the first week of lockdown (to use just one example) but did those people complaining and judging stop to think about the crowds’ circumstances? The complainants might have been part of the crowds that emptied Woolworths’ shelves just a few days earlier (panic pantry loading – with not a care for anyone else they are impacting) – but have they even known what it is like to have an empty fridge, and an empty wallet? Have many of our citizens even imagined what they would do if they had nothing left and only got paid as lockdown was setting in? Have they ever known what it’s like to be truly hungry, truly desperate?

The below image was the front page of Time magazine about a year ago. It was described as a visualisation of the unequal scenes we see in South Africa. While the specific image is of Primrose alongside Makause, it’s an image that is all too true throughout our country. Our Gini coefficient is one of the highest in the world – in other words, we are a dual economy – our inequality is described as persistent. In marketing (not just media), it is our job to walk in someone else’s shoes to understand what their life is like. Remember it is not a target audience – it is a group of human beings each in their own unique boat. And actually this is something that every single South African should do. Take the time to walk in someone else’s shoes to understand the life they live, the challenges they face – not because of COVID-19 but every single day.

We all have a choice no matter the situation. We can choose to give in, or we can choose to keep fighting and find an opportunity. We can choose to support and help, or we can choose to take advantage. We can choose to judge others, or we can choose to understand. I love hearing the many stories of people supporting feeding schemes, local businesses, and the all-round Ubuntu spirit! But it saddens me that there are just as many stories of judgement and negativity.

After all, humanity should be something we focus on from the day we are born until the day we die – it should certainly not be something newly discovered because of COVID-19. Humanity is what will differentiate us in the 4th industrial revolution – it should be seen as a strength, something we actively grow within ourselves. But let COVID-19 do this for us – let it act as a reminder that in the rat race that we live in, we neglect basic humanity and become self-absorbed. Let it remind us to stop and think of someone else. Next time you are going to judge someone else’s behaviour – stop and think about what boat they might be in. And next time you choose your own rules, think about the impact it has on the storm (and the impact on less luxurious boats weathering the storm). We say that in the upcoming decade brands are going to have be more human to connect so now is the time to for an evolution if you’re not yet thinking about the humanity of your brand.

I leave you with a final thought. Rather than using the time to complain about how tough life is in lockdown, use the time to learn about someone else’s hardships (either on a personal level or of the human audience you are trying to reach), to understand, to help where you can and to grow your humanity. And one day when life returns to “normal”, or at least a new normal – don’t forget the humanity that lockdown taught you. We’re all in the same storm.

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The Marketing Research Foundation updates the industry

The Marketing & Research Foundation (MRF) has had a busy few months recently with the appointment of a new CEO, Johann Koster, and ensuring that the launch of MAPS remains on track.

 In what is proving to be a very challenging period for the marketing industry, the MRF Board has quickly put processes in place to ensure the continuity it has built over the past few months, continues.

“There is no disputing that our world is rapidly changing at a level we’ve never seen before. The Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown that came into effect on the 26th of March 2020 has brought with it great concern and uncertainty,” says Johann. “But on the flipside of this uncertainty we wish to assure our subscribers and the marketing industry that MAPS is alive and well and we are working closely, but virtually, with stakeholders and Plus 94 Research, our research partner, to maintain business continuity.”

The pilot fieldwork on MAPS began in December last year and was completed successfully by mid-February. After commencing the actual fieldwork in March, it became clear that COVID-19 would make it impossible to continue with face-to-face interviewing, halting the process for now.

“The MRF and its Technical Committee, supported by Plus 94 Research, are currently evaluating contingency plans and alternative solutions that will allow us to continue data collection during lockdown and the anticipated subsequent period of restricted mobility and social interaction,” says Johann. “The discussions are being guided by governmental regulations without jeopardising research quality and data integrity.”

Sifiso Falala CEO of PLUS 94 Research adds: “Research has always been there to help our customers deal with uncertainty. Covid-19 has exponentially increased uncertainties faced by businesses, and made any long term planning appear at best speculative. Consumers are being jump-started into making quick decisions, and for some, even into reviewing their value system. For this reason, a comprehensive tracking survey such as MAPS is more essential than ever before.

Unlike in past years when methodology, if chosen correctly, was pretty much background noise, we are seeing an evolution of the importance of methodological adaptation. The discussion of methods used to gather the data will be in the foreground and as exciting as the expected insights themselves.”

With the country currently in Level 4 of lockdown, it’s clear that the industry is going to be in a restricted environment for some time to come. Many businesses now more than ever, require sound research and consumer insights to guide their decision making.

“At the MRF, we believe that the need for MAPS is more critical than ever and we’re working tirelessly with our partners and members to make MAPS a reality. The industry will be kept appraised of any updates as we progress through these uncertain times,” says Johann.

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