How to Target Audiences For Advertisements During a Recession

There’s an increasing number of reports predicting an economic downturn. Just as we were configuring life around COVID-19, consumer behavior is drastically changing yet again due to inflation. Inflation is greatly pressuring manufacturers’ margins due to rising gas prices, costly transportation and expensive raw materials. On top of that, manufacturers are struggling to strategize around retaining new buyers who purchased their brands during the pandemic, regain buyers who may have switched to another brand due to availability and/or pricing, or retain their loyal customers in a post-pandemic inflationary environment.

It has become even more critical to find ways to connect with consumers as buying patterns shift and supply chain issues continue to lead to out-of-stock pressure. While this may not seem like the opportune time to invest in media, that is exactly what companies should be doing. Past economic downturns have illustrated that reducing or pausing media has a negative long-term impact on brand performance. The best way to maximize media spend effectiveness in a recessionary environment is leveraging purchase-based audience solutions that align with changing environments.

The first step is establishing the connection with consumers. Many data providers often define “cash-strapped” households based solely on income. This measure can be appropriate in a steady economy; however, it is not revisited frequently enough to be the only yardstick when conditions are unstable as they are today. It’s important that your data provider is accurately defining and reaching the audience you’re wanting to connect with.

Purchase-based audiences provide the most accurate way to reach your existing and prospective buyers. With the right audiences in place, it then becomes critical to measure and optimize performance of your media. Brands can optimize their media campaigns via:


  • Campaign Conversion Feed (CCF), an automated weekly feed of verified buying households for a specified brand or category, delivered to various digital partners to connect offline purchases to ad exposures at a tactical level to optimize based on conversions.
  • Sales Tactic Optimization (STO) provides a directional sales read at the cohort level to quickly inform tactic-level optimization decisions in order to improve in-flight campaign performance shortly after launch through the end of the campaign.​
  • Lift on Demand (LOD) quantifies brand sales lift and ROAS generated by a digital campaign at the Total Household level and granular tactical breaks (e.g. audience targeting, device, creative, etc.) as early as four weeks into a campaign

If your current data provider doesn’t offer these three crucial tactics for effective media spending, brands can evaluate their current media strategies, simplify their audience playbook and leverage a data-driven approach to connect with the highest value consumers. They can also conduct agile “test and learns” now to glean insights to invest at scale when supply conditions improve.

This is not the first nor will it be the last episode of inflation, but this one is very different. There has never been such a convergence of inflation-driving factors since the Great Depression in the 1930s. CPG brands need to recognize the challenges marketers currently face and create audience segments for seamless recession planning and activation.

Justin Petty is the SVP, Media Solutions and Product Management, Media Center Of Excellence at IRI. He leads IRI’s product management and media solution teams within the IRI Media Center of Excellence. Petty has more than 20 years of experience in analytics and measurement for top brands and retailers. He is an IRI product expert focused on digital campaign measurement and targeting, with a commitment to delivering the value and insights that drive our clients’ businesses forward.

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