Proof of Purchase: Brands that Survived – and Thrived – by Advertising During a Downturn

Proof of Purchase: Brands that Survived – and Thrived – by Advertising During a Downturn

These are hard times. Between the pandemic and the economic crash, many business owners are wondering if their brands will survive. The good news is, there is proof that your business can come through and not only survive, but thrive! Let’s look at companies that used hard economic times as fuel for growth.

Brands that Advertised During Downturns

General Mills

Household across North America trimmed their food budgets during The Great Recession (2007 – 2009). General Mills took advantage of this to position their Hamburger Helper as a convenient, affordable way to stretch the budget while still providing a hearty meal that families loved. Playing up the “helping hand” icon and driving the point home with “happy budget” graphics solidified in consumers’ minds that Hamburger Helper was on their side during those lean times.


The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Post hard. Prior to the Depression, Post was the leading convenient cereal brand. During the 30s, however, Post slashed its advertising to save money. Kellogg’s, who was trailing Post, seized the opportunity. Rather than reducing advertising costs, Kellogg’s dramatically increased its budget and introduced a new cereal for good measure. The gamble paid off. Not only did Kellogg’s overtake Post, their Rice Krispies cereal, and subsequent banquet of treats made you can make from that cereal, are beloved household staples today.

Pizza Hut

This one resonates with the many independent restaurants that quickly turned to delivery and take-out service once they could no longer seat customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the early 90s recession hit, fast food giant McDonald’s tried to rely on its reputation and cut back on its advertising budget. That proved to be a big mistake. Instead of seeing loyal customers return for those Big Macs, McDonald’s watched their customers head over to Pizza Hut, who had jumped on the chance to grab market share from McDonald’s. By ramping up their advertising while one of their biggest competitors cut down on theirs, Pizza Hut enjoyed a 61 per cent increase in sales while McDonald’s watched their sales drop by 28 per cent.

Do These Lessons Apply to Small Businesses?

You may be thinking, that is all well and good for big brands like General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Pizza Hut, but I’m a small local business. Does this apply to my company?

Yes, it absolutely does! These multi-national brands deployed strategies that you can take advantage of right now. General Mills shifted their advertising to meet the needs of its consumers by pushing their affordable, budget-friendly food product. Kellogg’s took advantage of the vacancy created by Post and even positioned a new product that got people excited to switch brands. Pizza Hut knew that brand loyalty is not as strong as advertising loyalty, snatching away McDonald’s customers by simply out-advertising them.

During a downturn you should not stop advertising. What should change is how you advertise, which mediums you use, and which markets you target. Great West Digital is a leader in affordable, digital advertising that puts your name directly in front of your local, target audience. We help you craft unique, agile campaigns through a variety of services. Use this time to redefine your target market and advertise in a way that engages your customers.

These three brands are just a few that prove how advertising during a downturn works. Contact us today to start on your strategy.


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