I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones. John Cage

Marketing in an economic downturn

I really enjoyed this article about other ways to connect with your consumer in times of economic turmoil. Stephanie Kang provides both sides of the equation for a great read. Enjoy!

Designating Shortcuts to ‘Happiness’

Warmth Gets a Workout as Marketers Grope for Pitches That Will Resonate in a Recession

Original Article


Be happy. That’s one message marketers are trying out, with ads evoking warmth and good cheer, as they cast about for ways to appeal to consumers amid a recession.

Best Buy’s holiday campaign, created by Omnicom Group’s BBDO, includes TV spots featuring true stories of how Best Buy touches its customers’ lives. Employees of the consumer electronics retailer submitted stories, and documentary filmmaker Errol Morris filmed them telling their tales.

In one ad, an employee talks about selling a Webcam to a man whose grandchildren are moving abroad. Another shows a Best Buy employee teaching a blind man how to use his home-theater system. The tag line for the campaign: “You, Happier.”

Carnival, the Miami-based cruise company, faces its own challenge in trying to persuade consumers to invest in sun and spray as their retirement savings dwindle.

Carnival and its ad agency, Havas’s Arnold Worldwide, decided to throw a party — to be showcased in TV, outdoor and online ads — around efforts to break two Guinness world records. Thousands of people gathered in Dallas to play with the world’s largest beach ball (about the size of a 2,500-square-foot home) and break the world’s largest piñata, six stories high and stuffed with four tons of candy. The tag line: “Fun for All. All for Fun.”

“If there’s ever a time we’re living in pressure and stress and not having enough fun, it’s right now,” says Ruben Rodriguez, executive vice president of marketing and guest experience for the company’s Carnival Cruise Lines. “Fun is good for your health.”

Other marketers, from JetBlue Airways to J.M. Smucker’s Hungry Jack brand, are slipping the H-word into ads this holiday season.

Marketing executives say it is a classic strategy during recessions, or after traumatic events like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The idea is to break through to consumers who are being inundated by depressing news. “In all this doom and gloom, happiness is the obvious counterpoint strategy,” says Nick Bartle, director of behavioral planning for Omnicom’s BBDO North America.

It has obvious risks, too. Grinning through your ads in a rotten economy when consumers are deeply concerned about their financial future can seem insensitive or obtuse. “It does have immense pitfalls if executed improperly,” Mr. Bartle says. “You could look like a brand with its head in the sand.”

To do it right, he says, marketers have to be specific about how their products offer happiness, whether it’s a cigar that brings comfort to the smoker or a toy that makes the consumer smile. They also need to be careful about the placement and timing of the spots, he says, recalling a whiskey ad celebrating Ireland that ran in the London market shortly after an attack by the Irish Republican Army. Running an optimistic ad after a particularly steep stock market drop could also backfire.

“It’s tricky to pull off,” says Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor Associates, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC, “because being effective in advertising is communicating that you understand what’s in your customers’ heads. And clearly what’s in people’s heads right now is concern about the economy.”

Still, there are signs that consumers might be ready for a little fun. The comedy “Four Christmases” has been No. 1 at the box office for the past two weekends, beating the brooding teen romance film “Twilight” and the romantic epic “Australia.”

At CBS and NBC, comedies have been strong so far this season, and network executives take that as a sign that viewers are looking for lighter entertainment.

If the happy campaigns do spur consumption, it will be timely. Best Buy recently reported lower-than-expected sales and reduced its earnings guidance.

Greg Johnson, Best Buy’s senior vice president for marketing, says company executives debated whether the happiness theme would be effective when they began discussing holiday marketing strategies this summer.

“We knew things like price and value would be important,” Mr. Johnson says. “We also wanted to make sure we’re connecting emotionally at a time like this.”

Write to Stephanie Kang at

December 12, 2008
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