Recession Can Be Breeding Ground for Next Big Idea

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

With all apologies to Al Ries, innovation is a must in the business world. And a look at our cover story should convince anyone that it's perhaps the best strategy for surviving tough times.

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CNN, Japanese cars, Southwest Airlines, generic products, IBM personal computers -- these are just a few of the products that were either born out of or launched in the face of a desolate financial landscape.

We've said this before, but it bears repeating: This is not the time to abandon your game plan; it's not the time to give up on a solid marketing strategy. It is time to get smart. It is time to get lean and mean. And it's time to look for opportunities while competitors shut their eyes and hope this will all be over with as soon as possible.

As consultant Hal Fass wrote in a CMO Strategy piece that ran last month, "Recessionary times provide ripe opportunities for innovation, especially product innovation." More important, he cited a British study of 1,000 businesses during the past 30 years that "found that companies that spent more on innovation during the downturn saw return on capital employed rise 23.8% during the recovery, compared with 0.6% for those that slashed spending."

When times are good, you and your competitors have cash on hand and choose one of two paths: resting on your laurels or throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. A recession isn't the time for either of those strategies; rather, it's the time to latch onto that great idea -- one that the competitors have been too blind to see or too wary to pursue -- and run with it.

We're not counseling reckless spending. We're not suggesting you carry on as if the recession doesn't exist. We're simply saying that for those with a truly innovative product, now's a good time to strike.

Advertising Age's New York office is a couple of blocks away from the Chrysler Building. Construction on the Art Deco masterpiece was started in September 1928, in the midst of a skyscraper-building frenzy. One year later, the market collapsed. It may have been prudent to halt the project or settle for a more modest building. But construction went on, resulting in what is now one of the tallest buildings in Manhattan and the tallest brick building in the world -- one that tourists can't help but stop and admire.

As we work in its shadow, it occurs to us that if our founder, G.D. Crain, had been afraid to innovate in the midst of that same 1929 meltdown, we wouldn't be writing this today.
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