Recession-Proof Businesses

Plus Ways to Bounce Back Stronger From Tough Times

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Most of the time, it's sex that sells. But in a down economy, soup ain't doing so bad either. It's one of the few things, besides hamburgers, that you can eat when you're broke. And most people will tell you it's healthy. Campbell reported that its soup sales were up 12% in the most recent quarter. Not surprisingly, the key message in the company's stepped-up marketing efforts is value. Campbell touts five of its condensed soups as "the original dollar menu."

More layoffs and fewer bonuses lead to greater stress. And more stress leads to ... mouthguard sales? Indeed, according to anecdotal reports. Pink-slipped Wall Streeters have been flocking to the dentist to seek reprieve from their nightly stress-induced teeth grinding, which can damage teeth and lead to jaw trouble. Of course, custom-fitted mouthguards are hardly recession-priced -- they run between $300 and $700.

This should start with a good joke about bankruptcy lawyers, but it turns out there aren't any. But, hey, they've got job security, which is more than can be said for the rest of the legal industry for the first time in many years. Bankruptcy practices started staffing up back in 2006, when the wave of foreclosures began to appear inevitable. Meanwhile some major law firms, including Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, have been laying people off.

It's only natural the name synonymous with low prices would fare well in a recession. Thanks in part to the giant retailer's laser-like focus on its economically downtrodden clientele via its "Save money. Live better" ads, and the downtrodden getting a lift from lower gas prices, "this is Walmart time," as President-CEO Lee Scott said.

Even before Sarah Palin emerged as the industry's celebrity endorser, thrift stores were doing quite nicely in the recession. Sales were up 7% through the first eight months of 2008 at U.S. Goodwill stores, beating even Walmart's (especially on the apparel side). Maybe Ms. Palin's favorite Wasilla thrift store will accept all those GOP-financed duds from Nordstrom and Bloomingdales on consignment, adding some more fuel to the fire.

Apparently nothing clenches the sphincter quite like plunging stocks and soaring unemployment. But consumers are doing their part to restore liquidity. Laxatives traditionally do well in recessions, and this one is no exception. Information Resources Inc. data show laxative liquids and powders up 20.9% for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2. All that growth came from Miralax, which switched from prescription to over-the-counter in April 2007. But category sales were still up 7% in the third quarter from a year ago.

Finally, cable TV's failure in advertising is starting to pay off -- or at least it will keep the likes of Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision from getting hurt as badly as their brethren in a killer media recession. Take Comcast: In Q3, ad revenue took a 10% hit, but since advertising accounts for a tiny portion of Comcast's business (less than 7%), overall revenue was up 10%. Sure, some strapped consumers will look to their cable bills when trying to reduce home expenses, but will many do without cable? Doubtful.

Maybe people do cling to their guns after all. Barack Obama's stance on gun control and the teetering economy have proven to be a potent stimuli for the gun industry. Government and trade-association data reveal a 10% increase in sales of firearms and ammunition in the months leading up to the election. Now, with Mr. Obama on his way to the White House and the nation officially in recession, we can only imagine that rifles will top many a holiday wish list.

Spam -- the canned meat, not the unwanted e-mail -- was invented during the Great Depression. Sales are up by double digits, and it has been getting support from BBDO, Minneapolis. A Hormel exec told Ad Age he wouldn't peg Spam's success to the economy, but The New York Times noted last month that Hormel's Austin, Minn., plant has two shifts working seven days a week to meet demand.

Goodbye, Budweiser; hello, Busch. If you are selling cheap beer, you have nothing to fear in a recession. Bottom-shelf dwellers such as Keystone and Miller High Life have seen sales surge as the economy has bottomed out. Consumers have traded down from pricier brews like Corona and Heineken, which have seen once-hot sales cool dramatically of late.

Ways to Bounce Back Stronger From Tough Times

1. Passion And Leadership Are Imperative
A Successful Brand Needs A Strong, Visible Leader Who Oozes Belief In The Business And The Consumer Proposition. That Passion Cascades Throughout The Organization And Becomes Infectious.

2. Invest In The Brand And Be Courageous
Defy Conventional Wisdom And Spend To Grow Market Share. Studies Have Repeatedly Shown That Businesses That Increased Marketing Investments During A Recession Grew Market Share, Increased Margins And Had Better Long-Term Growth Trends Than Their Competition.

3. Let Creativity Fly
Innovation Through Consumer Insights And Experimentation Can Produce Breakthrough Ideas.

4. Develop Trust And Connectivity
Give Them What They Need To Be True Brand Believers -- And Loyal Forever. At Ana'S Masters Of Marketing Conference, Coca-Cola Cmo Joe Tripodi Said, "We Went To Our Core Audience, Asked Them What They Wanted, And Gave It To Them." The Result: The Immensely Successful Launch Of Coke Zero.

5. Integrate All Communications
Reach The Consumer Base Through Multiple Avenues -- But Creatively Deliver The Same Message Across All Platforms.

6. Be Accountable
Create A Culture Of Accountability And Partner With Finance, Research And Analytics To Measure Everything You Can. Ibm'S Success Is Grounded In A Disciplined Process That Started With A Cross-Functional Marketing And Finance Team That Reviewed All Activities.

7. Invest In People
Build Skills, Build Capability, Build Knowledge And Watch The Bottom Line Grow. Zappos Brings Employees To Its Las Vegas Headquarters For A Week Of Training To Ensure They Embrace The Company Culture And Philosophy.

8. Trust Your Agencies
They Are Your Ultimate "Brand Consultants" In Forming Strategy, Developing Breakthrough Creative And Expanding Media Platforms.

9. Strengthen The Marketing Supply Chain
Aggressively Pursue Efficiencies And Productivity, And Watch The Dollars Flow.

10. Be Socially Responsible
Do The Right Thing. Your Consumers Will Notice And Reward You For Giving Back. Jim Stengel, Former P&G Global Marketing Officer, Says It Is Time For Us All To "Go Beyond Cause Marketing Or Ideals-Based Branding And Have An Inspirational And Motivational Reason For Your Brand."

-- Bob Liodice
President-CEO, ANA
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