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February 13, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Don't Skimp on Their Ad Budgets


Articles Dean Jarrett, senior vice president of marketing at The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., which developed the Walmart ads, acknowledges the campaign began in 2007 before it was clear a harsh recession was building. "We can't claim we knew a recession was coming, but "Save Money. Live Better" is dead on-point with who they are and what they want to be."

Eileen Campbell, chief executive of the Millward Brown Group advertising firm in New York City, says that while companies should probably not dwell on the recession and scare consumers into hoarding their pennies under a mattress, certain products require a straight-up approach -- such as financial services. "If you are in the financial services category, to behave as you did a year ago is silly." At the same time, however, many consumers are weary of negativity generated by the recession and would be receptive to a more upbeat message, she adds. "If you can put a positive spin on how you can genuinely help without invoking doom and gloom, I think that's going to be more compelling."

In Control of Your Pushups

Wharton marketing professor Patti Williams cites Gold's Gym -- the Texas-based gym chain -- as an example of a company that has found a way to navigate the economic slump while promoting a product that might seem discretionary or self-indulgent in hard times. One television spot shows legs working a stair climber as words pop up across the screen changing from "First floor" to "12th floor" to "Kilimanjaro" to "Olympus." Finally the words, "The Corporate Ladder," appear.

"This is about being goal-oriented as opposed to a general fitness or vanity play," she says. "It links to the economy because people are less likely to be spending on flashy things and more likely to be thinking practically and pragmatically. Certainly people are going to be spending less in this downturn, but they will spend something."

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