Russell Parsons: A decade on, the impact of the financial crisis on marketing is still being felt

Ten years since the the banking system began to unravel, marketing is a mass of contradictions – cautious in some areas and ambitious in others.

financial crisis budgetsWe have just passed what is generally considered the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the financial crisis. The event generally seen as the moment banks’ exposure to the US sub-prime mortgage market began to unravel came on 9 August 2007 when French bank BNP Paribas announced it was freezing its hedge fund assets. It was at the beginning of September, however – when images of concerned customers queuing outside Northern Rock made front pages and news bulletins worldwide – that it really became apparent that things were about to get very serious.

What followed was a series of ructions that brought the financial system to its knees – the collapse of Lehman Brothers, followed by the cliff-edge rescue of Lloyds and RBS by a desperate Treasury, which saw no way out of the biggest crisis to hit capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1920s other than resuscitation with public money.

This was just the beginning. We have been living in a perpetual state of uncertainty ever since – lingering risk aversion by lenders, austerity, depressed wages and brittle consumer confidence seemingly all constants. Arguably it was this toxic brew, coupled with a sense of injustice, that led to Brexit, Trump and the rise of populism and even more uncertainty.

The financial crash has had a lasting effect on UK PLC. Marketing, being a significant spender of cash that would otherwise be returned to shareholders and a conduit for customer sentiment in an organisation, has been spun around. The appetite for risk and the relationship a company has with its customers are both very different.

Marketing since the financial crisis is a mass of contradictions. On one hand, finance directors demanding more efficiency and more accountability have focused the minds of marketers.

Marketing since the financial crisis is a mass of contradictions

On the other hand, many brands spend huge amounts on activity without expectation of a return that anyone would recognise as good business. Direct action movements such as Occupy and UK Uncut, which sprung up in the wake of the financial crash, did not achieve their ultimate objectives but did tap into unease about the way corporations conduct themselves. Attuned marketers have sought to become part of the solution to the world’s ills.

There are inconsistencies in personnel strategy too. The length depends on the study but it is safe to say that the average tenure of CMOs continues to fall despite the apparent need for stability. A recent study by executive search firm Russell Reynolds showed that brands are increasingly parachuting in external candidates to fill the top marketing jobs, perhaps in search of the glitter that they promise at the expense of the tried, trusted and possibly cheaper option that comes from hiring from within.

Data and digital developments have played their part in helping marketers deliver more efficient campaigns in the past 10 years, with the demand for analytical and commercially focused marketers so great that brands are willing to look outside in search of excellence. The democratisation of information ushered in by social media, meanwhile, has prompted brands into being better corporate citizens.

The events of 2007-2008 do, however, continue to influence marketing for good and bad to this day.

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