How CMOs Are Marketing Through a Turbulent Economy

Marketers at top companies are staying flexible and figuring out how to prove the return on their marketing investments as the economic outlook dims, executives said at a meeting of The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Network on Tuesday. 

“There’s no such thing as a set forecast right now,” said Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of whiskies at


North America, adding that her organization looks at pulling back marketing spending in some parts of its portfolio while accelerating in others. “We are doing quarterly forecasting, and as a result, spend is moving around.” 

Marketers’ jobs right now include proving the worth of marketing investments, Ms. Kelly said.

“As CMOs, our job is to continue to reinforce the value we get from spend, and the only way to do that is to really understand the business and to have a business conversation about the value that we’re spending and what it’s going to put back,” she said.  

CVS Health Corp.

has not pulled back on marketing so far, according to its chief marketing officer,

Norman de Greve.

But there is a growing worry around possible shrinking advertising budgets, he added.

“We have a set of scenarios, but nobody really knows [what’s coming],” he said. “We have all the consultants and we’re asking all of them what’s happening…but it’s really hard to figure out where we’re heading.” 

And while marketers must grapple with how to strike the right tone with consumers in less-than-happy times, they also have to maintain a level of consistency with their brand. 

“We’re not solving the world’s problems when you buy M&Ms,” said Anton Vincent, president of Mars Wrigley North America, part of Mars Inc. “This is tough stuff that we’re dealing with, unprecedented stuff we’re dealing with…So we want to provide a respite from all of that when they’re coming to interact with our brands.” 

CVS, which in September agreed to acquire the home-healthcare company Signify Health, likewise has no plans to move marketing away from a focus on equity in consumer health, Mr. de Greve said. The company last month embarked on a new campaign highlighting commitments to women’s health, for example, which includes cutting the costs of its own-brand menstrual products by 25% and paying the tax on period products on behalf of customers in 12 states.

“It’s even more valuable to that customer set in the recession. When you’re doing that you’re doing something meaningful and useful to them, and that can generate more volume, which drives more earnings,” Mr. de Greve said.

The Twitter conundrum

Executives also spoke about how they have been approaching Twitter as a marketing platform in the days since

Elon Musk

took ownership and some marketers began to flee. 

Mr. Vincent of Mars said his company had paused activity on Twitter “before all of this happened,” citing discourse on the platform that the company deemed inconsistent with its own principles. 

“So we’ve chosen to remain paused,” he said. “There are some specific things that need to happen for us to go back on the platform. We’ve been in direct conversation with Elon, we had a meeting with a lot of big advertisers, in terms of what we wanted, what we expected, and we’re looking for decisive action from him and his team.” 

Diageo’s Ms. Kelly said the company has used Twitter in the past to drive conversation around its activities, but said the platform historically hasn’t been a large driver of return-on-investment. The company hasn’t been marketing on Twitter in the last quarter but will continue to evaluate it, she said.

CVS’s Mr. de Greve similarly said the platform was not a significant marketing tool for the company even before Mr. Musk’s takeover.

“Two things can be true at the same time: It needed an evolution, and maybe the ‘how’ isn’t exactly ‘how’ most of us would want to do that,” he said. “For us it remains to be seen if that’s a place we’ll want to go.”

Write to Megan Graham at [email protected] and Katie Deighton at [email protected]

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Candice Cearley

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