WSJ ads feel marketers’ pain

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The latest ad campaign from The Wall Street Journal sends a stark message to marketing departments feeling the squeeze from the economic slowdown: hang tough.

The campaign, "Advertising during challenging times," broke in The Journal last month; ads are also running in Advertising Age, Adweek and BtoB. The campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, will run at least through the end of the summer. Billings weren’t disclosed.

Mitchell Engelmeyer, creative director of marketing and communications for The Journal, said the goal is to show companies that maintain their marketing and advertising plans during a downturn perform better than companies that don’t.

"We’re focusing on the argument between marketing and financial departments about where to cut" in the face of a downturn, Engelmeyer said. Clearly, these ads come down on the side of marketers.

"We make it clear that we’re not in a recession," he said. "A slowdown, yes, but we were careful about not making the campaign a self-fulfilling prophesy for a recession."

Budget lifesaver

So far, the campaign features two images. One is of a man-eating shark accompanied by the tagline: "Your brand is a lifeboat. (Never, ever leave the lifeboat.)" The copy reads: "We’re drifting through dangerous waters. Your brand is all you’ve got. When you stop advertising, you abandon your brand."

The copy then refers to an American Business Media study, released in 1979, that found that companies that did not cut advertising during the severe 1974-75 downturn had the highest growth in sales and net income during those two years, as well as the following two years. Companies that cut advertising had the lowest sales and net income during the same period.

The other ad shows a pig clad in feathery wings, with the tagline, "Raising brand awareness without advertising and other improbabilities." The copy is similar in tone to the "Shark" ad, and reads, "The more people are exposed to your advertising, the more they will like your product and buy your product." It goes on to quote University of Southern California professor of management Edward Lawler III: "If you’re strong, look at recession as an opportunity to deliver the death blow to some of the marginal players."

Rally ‘round the ads

Alan Jurmain, exec VP-director of media services at the New York-based ad agency Lowe Lintas & Partners, said the campaign, while slightly self-aggrandizing, should serve as a booster for advertisers.

"It tells marketers to reorder their priorities, and that ad budgets shouldn’t be the lowest-hanging fruit," Jurmain said. "Companies need to assess advertising and realize that it should be higher up the tree."

Despite the economic downturn, marketers "can’t just turn off the light switch [on advertising], which is being penny-wise and pound-foolish," Jurmain added. "There’s a knee-jerk reaction to cut advertising, which is perceived to be expendable. But companies pay a price in terms of lost awareness and lost mind share."

Jane Deery, exec VP-managing director at Carat Freeman, said while the copy in The Journal’s ads can’t be disputed, she doubts the campaign will push companies to spend their ad dollars on major media vehicles during a downturn.

"The Journal is a great vehicle, but when times are tough, companies have to home in on the vertical titles and turn to ROI," she said.

Engelmeyer said initial reaction from other sales staffs has been that the campaign transcends The Journal’s effort. "The campaign can be used by all kinds of publishers to make the same argument," he said. M

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