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When is it appropriate to take a marketing pause?

I’ll start off by giving you an example of when to put a marketing plan on hold. American mixed nuts brand, Planters, was gearing up for a big Super Bowl spot and campaign that included the death of its century-old mascot Mr. Peanut. But not long after the brand touted his demise and advertised a funeral during the Big Game, the real-life death of basketball star Kobe Bryant occurred, throwing Planters’ plans into jeopardy.

“We knew immediately that we did not want to be talking about a fake cartoon death at a moment when there was a real death,” said Jeremy Mullman, partner and director of media engagement at ICF, which works with Planters. “We made a decision to stop the pre-promotion of that Super Bowl campaign for a few days.”

The decision to pause all online advertising was a smart one. Mullman said that the brand got credit for being sensitive and Planters ultimately moved forward the following week with the planned Big Game appearance, which included the mascot’s rebirth as Baby Nut.

Recently, following the Queen’s death a month ago, we saw many brands make decisions to pause advertisements. Savage X Fenty sent an email to all its UK ambassador’s asking them to pause all content for two weeks (naturally they don’t want to be seen smiling in lingerie days after the longest reigning monarch had passed away) and there were no television advertisements for a week during programmes, just pauses of respect. 

If you run brand advertising, or a whole brand, yourself, you may be wondering how to gauge when it’s appropriate to stop advertising. Many felt strongly against pausing advertising for the Queen for example. The view is very much one that acknowledges that we receive bad news every day (have you ever seen the news) and the Queen symbolises a painful history of unnecessary elitism, capitalism and colonisation which led way to slavery. 

Here is some advice on how to gauge when it’s appropriate to take a marketing pause. 

Do your homework
When something happens in the news, brands need to do their homework when it comes to how the event might affect their planned or current campaign. Brands should also look at the audience the event is affecting, she said. Are the company’s target consumers weighing in? Are the journalists that would normally cover a brand’s campaign instead covering the current event? If so, a brand might be better suited holding off until it can get more attention, not just with paid social media but with earned as well.

Be prepared in advance if possible
In the case of the Queen, as a monarch in her 90s, it was common practise for British brands to have a prep of what they would do, public relations wise, if she was to pass away. After COVID caused E-Trade to delay a big brand campaign set to debut during March Madness in 2020, the Morgan Stanley-owned marketer is now always ready with a Plan B, and often a Plan C, according to Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Zaretsky, who is also CMO of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

If, after weighing all factors, a brand does decide to move forward with a campaign rather than shift its timing, it should be prepared for consumer pushback, particularly on social media, Aglar said. He suggested having community managers and social media managers ready to monitor content and be prepared with a response.

Does the event strike a chord with your consumers
If your consumers are Latin American Gen Z females, the Queen’s passing is unlikely to phase the majority. If you’re John Lewis, that’s a different story. If something happens in the news cycle that affects younger consumers, which are your brand’s target, it might make sense to pull those ads only.

Consider pausing only select channels
Following on from that, an entire campaign does not have to pause because of an event. Brands might be well served stopping some portions of a push while keeping other channels running. Different marketing channels come with different risk profiles. Indeed, social and digital channels might carry the most risk of consumer backlash, but continuing search marketing, which would only engage customers actively looking for your brand, could remain beneficial for a brand. Marketers should consider keeping as much of a campaign running as they can and still avoid any damage.

Recognise when to resume
When thinking about when to start or restart a campaign after a delay, brands should look at a variety of factors. Brands should monitor social media coverage to see if conversation around the news event has died down. For the queen’s passing, for example, many brands were advising different resume timing for clients in the UK versus the US.

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