YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Consumers don't have to look far these days for a deal; it seems marketers everywhere are pitching discounts, bargains and value.
Walmart allows consumers to save money and live better. Microsoft reminds that PCs are cheaper than Macs and just as good. JCPenney promises the trifecta of value: style, quality and price. Kia Motors says it has features competitors can't beat at a price they can't match. Pillsbury Grands biscuits are only 25¢ a serving. Subway and Quiznos are duking it out by the dollar with $5 foot-longs and $4 torpedos, respectively.
As '90s infomercial guru Susan Powter might say, "Stop the insanity." On its face, the rationale behind value-based advertising seems to make sense. It's a recession, and consumers are watching what they spend. But assuming everyone really is only out for the best deal during this recession, at what point does it all become one big blur? That is, if everything is a value, then what's the value of being a value?
"When everyone is offering 10% off or 25% off or 50% off, what's the point of difference?" said David Murphy, co-president and director of brand innovation at Barrie D'Rozario Murphy, Minneapolis. "A lot of the noise you're hearing now is price noise. ... Value in the traditional definition is getting more for less money or getting something for nothing. But value has an emotional quality, too, where I feel smart or I feel reassured or I feel in control by buying this product."
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He pointed to Hyundai, Target and Kodak as recent examples of brand marketing that tap that deeper kind of value. The Hyundai Assurance program reassures by taking the risk of job loss off the table, while Target harked back to simpler times with its fall campaign tagged "A new day. New ways to save." And Kodak offers consumer-smart and less-wasteful picture printing with its newly launched "Print and Prosper" campaign.
"We're promoting the value of saving people money. That gets to the trust of Kodak," said Kodak Chief Marketing Officer Jeffrey Hayzlett of the work created by Deutsch, New York. "It's not a pricing model; this is a value model. ... Kodak wants you to take more pictures, have more memories and more Kodak moments. We don't want you to have to worry about whether you can afford to print those moments and memories out."
Even the word value can raise consumer suspicions, no matter a marketer's good intent. "'Value' is the most overused and least believed statement in branding," said Kevin Joy, VP at BrandProtect. "It's OK to want to be perceived as providing value, but just keep it out of the slogans, please."