Recession Got You Down? Marketers Want to Help

With Headlines Mired in Gloom and Doom, Flurry of Ad Messages Tries to Tap Into Consumers' Need for Hope

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Don't worry. Be happy.

So advises Ian Beavis, exec VP and exec global client director at Aegis Group's Carat. He believes advertisers are hammering away too much on the negatives in their marketing these days. The media agency's qualitative research, conducted with thousands of Americans across the country three weeks ago, revealed that "people are weary of hearing about one-sided, negative economic news," he said.
Something to look forward to: Life is filled with fun, Best Buy reassures us.
Something to look forward to: Life is filled with fun, Best Buy reassures us.

"Americans by nature are a very optimistic bunch of people," said Mr. Beavis, who happens to be a native Australian. Carat found, he said, that while consumers aren't Pollyanna-ish about the nation's state of affairs, they are looking for more hope and optimism.

The conclusion, according to Mr. Beavis, is that smart marketers who take the high road in times like these will fare better than advertisers with a very rational approach. He added that the strategy worked for Toyota when he headed the automaker's account in Australia at Saatchi & Saatchi during two recessions there.

Resilience
And indeed, some messaging does appear to be taking the Bobby McFerrin approach, with ads from Harley-Davidson, Best Buy, Chevrolet and JetBlue among them. Even presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama touts change and hope in his messaging.

Harley's logic is that its customers are "a little rebellious and resilient when they're told things aren't good," said Mark-Hans Richer, chief marketing officer at the motorcycle maker. "They say, 'Screw this. We've gone through this before and gotten through it; we're going to be fine.'"

Hence, Harley's new print and online blitz from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, themed "Screw it; Let's ride," reflects what Mr. Richer called "road research" with owners, who he said don't fret about the economy or doom and gloom in the press. The copy contains such catchy phrases as "Fear sucks."

Chevrolet is using Chaka Khan's song "Tell Me Something Good" for a regional dealer ad touting seven of its cars that get 30 miles to the gallon or better. Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., is handling the push.

Best Buy launched a campaign last week themed "We'll take you to a better summer," focusing on mobile electronics that can enhance summer plans created by BBDO, New York. And JetBlue is flying against competitors with an integrated $15 million effort that broke last week encouraging "Happy Jetting."

Jetting vs. flying
Andrea Spiegel, VP-marketing at JetBlue, said while the airline is dealing with the same problems as its competitors, the "need for optimism and a positive alternative in this negative category is more important than ever." JWT, New York, created the airline's first national TV commercial, outdoor ads and a microsite around the theme, plus a book explaining the concept of jetting vs. flying, aimed at influencers and the media.

H-D - Screw It
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Escapist fun: Harley-Davidson recently rolled out bold ads that ride roughshod over despair.
Andy Bateman, CEO of Interbrand, New York, said he hasn't seen a return to optimism among Americans and believes advertisers who try to counteract how badly we feel are opportunistic. Comparing Barack Obama's hope message to other brands', he said, isn't a fair contrast.

In a down market, marketers should focus on their brands' core attributes and competitive advantages, he said. Companies can steal market share in a down market and generally don't try innovative things.

Strong brands are a less risky choice for people during tough times, he said, adding that consumers "are searching for the familiar." Mr. Bateman said he believes that's why Citi dug into its past for its "The Citi never sleeps" ad tag last week.

"That's a familiar line," he said, and well-known ad tags like that can reinforce why a customer bought a product in the first place. And JetBlue it is trying to recall the fun of flying, which is how the airline built its brand, he said. "Everything old is new again."

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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda, Michael Bush
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