Advertising in an Economic Downturn

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the United States entered a recession in December 2007. It’s a now a year later, and advertisers are formulating campaigns that speak to this issue and specifically some of the concerns it has instilled in consumers.

Publishers are attracting these campaigns with economic-themed content that goes beyond the money sections of your favorite sites to proliferate verticals like food and family, parenting, travel, and technology. In the U.K., the “Financial Times” went so far as to promote the benefits of advertising during a recession with a microsite and an associated ad campaign. With a section titled “Advertising in a downturn,” the site includes a study of U.S. companies that found increased spending during a recession substantially increases companies’ profits when the economy improves.

Though it may seem counterintuitive on the surface, boosting your ad spend now makes good financial sense. Consider the importance of addressing the needs of your clients’ potential audience under normal circumstances. Then think about the universal interest of making smart purchasing decisions and finding the value in the products and companies they invest in on a daily basis. For many brands, this is an ideal time to underscore — in a most culturally relevant fashion — the product attributes that already exist.

Tide has chosen to do this with a display ad campaign for its concentrated detergent that boasts the phrase, “Get what you pay for.” The campaign is consistent with the brand’s emblematic messaging but also speaks to the current consumer mindset.

Meanwhile, the Milk Processor Education Program, maker of the iconic “got milk?” ads, has launched a new one that strays from the usual emphasis on beauty and strength and the “Milk Your Diet” slogan. Instead of featuring the hottest film starlet or sports hero, the ad presents financial expert Suze Orman and a message about “milking your budget.”

Along with financially themed copy, it’s accompanied by an online “Milk Your Budget” microsite in which consumers get tips on how to stretch their household dollars and enter for the chance to win $150 in groceries. The no-frills site plays up the product’s practical side with a tool that compares the cost of a glass of milk to other popular drinks, and a “Savvy Shopping Cart” checklist that offers a sample grocery list designed to deliver the most meals for your money.

Getting creative with messaging is central to any recession marketing campaign, but finding the most appropriate ad placements can’t be overlooked. As you explore your options, you’ll find a lot more articles about frugal holiday parties and low-cost gifts than are typical of the season. Trendy foodie site Chow is posting articles like “Dinner Parties on the (Ultra) Cheap,” while TodayShow.com is putting an economic spin on a news story that could interest consumers on numerous levels by choosing to address how a family of 20 lives debt-free.

Newspaper sites are a goldmine for content related to saving cash, from the home page to the fashion and beauty channels. You might find ads for hair color that highlight the savings women will experience by avoiding a costly trip to the salon or for wrinkle-free apparel that need never be dry-cleaned but looks fresh and crisp straight out of the (much cheaper) dryer.

Even luxury brands can put an economic twist on their ads; the investment might be greater up front, but pricey home-brewed espresso still costs less than a daily trip to Starbucks, and high-end chocolates can be divided among holiday hostess baskets, if not purchased as a self-indulgent treat. Complement your creative and strategic site placement with interactive tools and downloadable tips that consumers can use to improve their finances beyond your product purchase, and you’ll retain their interest long after they’ve left the page.

Between messaging and media options, it seems ironic that advertisers have such an excess of opportunities to choose from when the overarching theme is one of restraint. It’s a dichotomy that stands to serve online advertisers well.

Join ClickZ Expert Dave Evans for Conversational Marketing: How to Develop a Successful Social Media Strategy on December 15 at 3 p.m. EST. This free Webinar will teach you practical steps to developing the social dimensions of your overall marketing program.

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