Wondering What to Do? We Asked the Experts

There's No Right Answer, but Basically Don't Cut Advertising; Rethink It

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Ad Age explores what marketers, media and agencies are doing to survive and even thrive in the downturn.
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now's the time to go big. Or small. Dominate social media. Or stick to what's tried and true. In these stormy times, how are you supposed to discern what is right for your brand? There is no one silver bullet, as you well know by now. Here, Ad Age puts forth what some experts are thinking, doing or, in one case, comically musing regarding the recession. There is one common theme: The solution is not to cut advertising but to rethink it.

Andrew Robertson
"There is no more sleep shopping. All purchase decisions are mindful. I read that people are spending 20% longer in a supermarket than this time last year. And it is not because they are buying 20% more. So you have to give people the reasons they need to validate the decisions they want to make. That affects both the messaging ... and the media choices. The most useful source of information doesn't change. As Yogi Berra said, 'You can observe a lot just by watching.' In general we have to watch more and observe more -- really understand how consumers are behaving first, and then why."
-- Andrew Robertson,
BBDO Worldwide

William Charnock
"The downturn is a chance for brands to prove their mettle, prove what they stand for, not run around and chase every penny. ... If you are a luxury brand, you need to behave like a luxury brand."
-- William Charnock,
co-head of strategic planning,
JWT, New York

Dan Ariely
"If you are the default brand (say, AT&T), this is not necessarily a good time. But if you are a newcomer, or not usually considered, now is an opportunity to be considered. ... This is a time when people revise their habits, and then they stay with their habits. We don't revise our habits too often, but when we do, we tend to stick with them, even after a recession."
-- Dan Ariely,
James B. Duke, professor
of behavioral economics at
Duke University,
and author of "Predictably Irrational"

Paul Lavoie
"Conventional wisdom is that marketers should spend their way out of a recession. The reality is that marketing executives often just aren't able to do that. It's too easy and lazy to say, 'Spend more.' A recession forces marketers to reassess their strategies and figure out ways to do more with less. Don't be bold with your budget in these times. Be bold with your strategies. Be bold executionally."
-- Paul Lavoie,
chairman, Taxi

Julie Roehm
"Stop hiding. No one ever got ahead by hiding themselves away. The same is true for brands. Now is the time to make a statement. Be bold, be present. It's cheaper and just as many people are listening but far fewer are talking. The easy decision is to contract and hide yourself away hoping that if you as a company or marketer never lift your head up, it will never get lopped off. But if you never lift your head up, the consumer can't see you. Be smart, try new things. In this economy, you can be noticed at a fraction of the cost and be rewarded for trying new mediums and new messages."
-- Julie Roehm,
marketing consultant/
CMO for hire,
Backslash Meta

"Luckily for many brands trying to reach youth, the most effective way to market is word-of-mouth or peer-to-peer, which is also a lot cheaper than traditional big media buys. The challenge is doing this authentically through avenues like a well-run student-rep program, growing fan communities on popular social networks or other forms of digital campaigns on sites popular with youth that go beyond the banner and offer something of value to youth. There's nothing young people love more than 'free,' so targeted sample programs and other free giveaways are sure to build buzz."

-- Anastasia Goodstein,
founder and editor
in chief, Ypulse

Brad Haley
"Obviously value is more important than ever, but the trick is offering value on your own terms. So, for us, we have been communicating the good value our premium burgers represent vs. comparable items at sit-down restaurants in our advertising. We are also using newspaper, mail or online coupons to a greater extent because they tend to drive trial of our premium menu items -- and, thus, increase the likelihood of full-revenue purchases in the future -- and they tend to be more incremental than discounted items promoted on windows posters or on menus."
-- Brad Haley,
exec VP-marketing,
Carl's Jr. and
Hardee's restaurants

"The goal of advertising is to engage people with a message that is to have an enduring emotional impact ... That challenge, which has never been small, has only increased [in this economy]. I want to urge you to get inside the skin of whatever emotion or set of emotions that are relevant to your product or brand. ... People want to know that they're being respected, that their plight is being felt. Whether or not you can do much about it, it has to be acknowledged [in your communications]."

-- Jerry Zaltman,
founding partner,
Olson Zaltman Associates,
and professor emeritus, Harvard Business School,
before the Advertising Research Foundation's annual convention, Re:Think 2009

Anne Bologna
"In the Great Depression, Kellogg continued to market its cereals while rivals cut budgets. Kellogg pulled ahead of Post in sales, a change that has never been reversed. Point is, what you sacrifice now, you pay for later. Every thinking business person knows that, but few have the courage to invest. Be brave. You'll never regret it."
-- Anne Bologna,
CEO, Toy

"Aggressive marketing during recessions is often -- not always, but often -- a smart move. Exactly how you bring that to market is case and industry specific. [For example,] Hyundai's brilliance is to realize it's not about cutting the price, it's about removing the risk that the consumer won't be able to make the payments."

-- Mike Hanssens,
Bud Knapp professor
of marketing at UCLA Anderson School of Management

Jerry Wind
"Upgrade the talent pool. Most companies you hear about fire people, which is fine if they get rid of the less-productive people. But it's also a great opportunity in this environment to recruit very talented people at a very reasonable price."
-- Jerry Wind,
Lauder professor
of marketing at the
Wharton School

"In the pit of this recession, I think we should do exactly what we do in the good times: Act with supreme self-confidence and profess that we know precisely what we're up to. And make the logo 15% bigger (just in case)."

-- Matt Beaumont,
author, "e: A Novel"

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