[naples, fla.] With little left to leech from costs, marketers at the Association of National Advertisers annual conference endorsed budget-boosting as the path to growth in a seesawing economy-at least in theory.
Far from optimistic-and resigned that they can't see economic bottom-those at the ANA's 92nd annual confab last week suggested increasing current budgets is the only way to raise share once the economy bubbles again.
"You can't save your way to growth," said Brad Simmons, VP-media services, at Unilever U.S. He said the package-goods titan is spending more than it anticipated on important global brands. Priorities include Axe men's deodorant, Lever 2000, Dove, Suave, Slim Fast and Lipton. "We've got some pretty aggressive growth targets."
But Unilever is also pruning. U.S. President-CEO Charles Strauss said although the company is significantly increasing its global marketing spending, the largess is going toward fewer brands (see related story, P. 3).
In the first seven months of 2002, Unilever's U.S. measured-media spending was $411 million, compared with $612.3 during the full year 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.
The ANA turnout was further evidence marketers aren't expecting an upturn soon. Of the 251 scheduled attendees, 54-only 20%- came from the client side, with the economy, increased work loads and slack stock prices blamed for travel restrictions.
"They're cautious-I wouldn't put it as `cautiously optimistic,"' said Donny Deutsch, chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch. "Marketers know things are tough, and they're not necessarily seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but they know they are in for a tough share fight and they have to get aggressive. ... We could be living in this economy for years."
One food marketer who attended and who asked to remain nameless said that his marketing spending had remained consistent despite the downturn, adding that his company's major brands would receive the bulk of the dollars. But he believed competitors would step up spending.
"The top line is important in addition to the bottom line," he said.
Some attendees suggested spending would rise because marketers-with stock prices at a fraction of their peaks-have acclimated to the change. Others said it pays to spend, citing share gained by marketers that increased outlays during the recession of the early '90s.
Clare Thain, acting senior VP-marketing at Wellpoint Health Networks in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said businesses once again seem to be concerned with "building their businesses back rather than [just thinking] `Oh, my God."'