Effie analysis: How premium brands use marketing to survive recessions


Economic turmoil is a certainty for 2021, as the pandemic disruption shows little sign of abating, but strong brands can overcome these barriers, according to a new collaborative report from EACA, Effie Awards Europe, and the Effectiveness Partnership released today.

Why it matters: Recessions usually send businesses into defence mode, but radical cuts are a terrible way to do this. Premium brands grow from commanding higher prices, meaning that in recession they need to maintain a strong customer base from which to grow once good times return.

Background: Recessions tend to hit discretionary spending, meaning that consumers trade down from premium brands to cheaper alternatives. This report, which WARC subscribers can access here, shows how smart growth strategy can help premium brands to defy grim predictions.

Europe, where the case studies that inform the report come from, has seen more than its fair share of economic hardship between 2008-19.

In 2008-9, it endured the global Great Recession; in 2011-13, Eurozone countries faced the sovereign debt crisis. Though the latter did not touch all European markets, like the UK, the continent experienced a contraction of growth if not full-blown recession.


  • A recession is commonly defined as a period of two or more consecutive quarters of declining GDP.
  • A premium brand is defined here as charging >20% than the median price of the brand’s category but, unlike superpremium brands, commanding a mass audience. Premium brands enjoy a reputation for quality and high social cachet.


  • Strong, desirable brands will remain desirable, but they need to continue communicating. “Over the whole of the 2008-19 period our findings show campaigns for premium brands outperform those of non-premium brands in generating large business effects,” in recessionary times, however, these results tend to be even more pronounced.
  • Understand where your growth comes from. In economic growth periods, premium brands grow value by justifying higher prices to capture more of an expanding category. In recessions, however, premium brands need to shift to a balance between market share and volume. Maintaining mass sales is fundamental, even if margin suffers, because this is the foundation from which the brand will be able to raise prices when the good times return.
  • New users/customers are always important. “Growing penetration is the #1 marketing objective and effect for successful premium brands achieving large or very large business effects, in and out of recessions, as our data shows.” This said, award-winningly effective campaigns don’t try to be all things to all people, they define a clear target whose needs the brand can satisfy.
  • Product innovation is key to most successful premium brand campaigns. 64% of successful premium brand campaigns support new product launches in a recession; in non-recessionary periods, this is also the main objective of 54% of successful campaigns.
  • Emotion pays for premium brands in a recession. 44% of successful campaigns in a recession use an emotional approach to 33% in non-recessionary times.
  • High-reach broadcast channels are key. Thankfully, they are also cheaper in recessions, as brands cut discretionary ad spend. But successful campaigns tend to use mostly TV, with digital channels aiding in tandem.
 Seeking to build and grow your brand using the force of consumer insight, strategic foresight, creative disruption and technology prowess? Talk to us at +971 50 6254340 or mail: engage@groupisd.com or visit www.groupisd.com/story

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