A global pandemic. Jittery markets. Nothing on store shelves except chocolate hummus. None of us imagined that this new year would lead to worldwide cancellations and effective-immediately work from home policies – but here we are. And when it comes to determining a pandemic marketing strategy, many brands are asking: “What do we do next?” 

Whether the reality rendered by this pandemic becomes a footnote in the history books or our new normal, we do know from the history books that uncertain times provide make-or-break opportunities for brands. 

Yes, we’re in the midst of a pandemic that has rocked global markets. But we also have the benefit of focus, a clean competitive slate, an opportunity for digital solutions, and the ability to pivot to new markets. So, where do we go from here? We’ll walk through some opportunities in the current media and marketing landscape. 

pandemic marketing strategy

Winning History Lessons 

The US recently celebrated the longest financial bull run in history: 11 years. Modern brands that have benefited from this stability are now faced with crisis. What we have to remember is that we have been here before. There have been as many as 47 recessions in US history that have demonstrated how brands can not only survive crisis, but emerge stronger. 

In the 1990s, a MarketSense study concluded the best strategy for coping with a recession is balanced long-term branding with promotion for short term sales. A small brand at the time, Kellogg cereal doubled its ad budget during the Great Depression, leaving its leading competitor Post (who cut advertising) in the dust. Brands like Jif and Kraft Salad Dressing experienced sales growth of 57% and 70% respectively after increasing advertising during the recession. And Amazon grew 28% during the 2009 recession. Your pandemic market strategy should take this into consideration.

Companies who advertise in down times, pivot quickly, and take advantage of a drastically different competitive landscape can gain exponential market share. 

Read next: What These 3 Gen Z Consumer Habits During the Pandemic Mean For Your Brand

A Little More Distant – and A Little More Social 

Undoubtedly, when we look back on this time, we will remember the quiet. With over a third of the population staying home and no commutes, happy hours, or travel on the horizon, this pandemic has granted us a level of distraction-free time that we may have never granted ourselves. 

And where in-person interactions used to be, “social distance” friendly digital solutions are stepping in to bridge to gap. Not only are we laser-focused on social media, videoconferencing, online entertainment, remote working tools, and news, but we are reliant on these solutions to power our new (or at least, temporary) normal. 

This pandemic has turned the global volume level down. That can be a game-changer for brands looking to make an impact with their pandemic marketing strategy.

New Opportunity in Niche Markets  

A month ago, you may have had your marketing strategy perfected – but it’s not a month ago. It’s a crucial time to reevaluate your customer segments and look for new opportunities you may have missed before.  

For example, brands often overlook military personnel and their families as consumers, but they shouldn’t. The military consumer is accustomed to stressful times, and they are 100% employed by definition.  

Another market to explore is the teen and Gen Z audiences. Though most schools have ended their semesters early and students have returned home, this is only temporary. This is the time to implement a strategy for back-to-school promotions for K-12 students, college students, and their parents. Many of the members of this audience will be actively preparing to return to school.


As humans and as brands, we’re wired to seek certainty. But what we need to remember, based on past lessons learned, is that uncertainty can actually be good for advertising. Resist the urge to scale back your marketing efforts and opt instead for a long-term pandemic marketing strategy. Capitalize on a quieter world and a rapt audience. And get creative about new niche markets that could prove to be your life raft.  

Christina O'Toole

Christina is a data-driven, full stack marketer with over 20 years success leading marketing in technology, higher ed and publishing industries. Christina has developed hundreds of marketing campaigns and built all facets of programs including lifecycle journeys, creative direction and lead generation. She now heads corporate marketing at Refuel Agency.