The Advertising Impact of $4-per-Gallon Gas

Changes to Consumer Lifestyles Mean a Shift in Ad Dollars and Tone of Marketer Messages

By Published on .

Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
There's lots of whining going on these days about soaring gasoline prices. And for good reason: For many Americans, the steep price jumps are lifestyle-changing. So what does that mean for consumer buying habits? For clients? And what about the agencies that market their products?

I believe the changes are wide-ranging. Consumers and clients have felt an immediate impact, the agencies less so.

Let's take a look at the consumer. Millions of consumers on tight budgets have been forced to make cuts.

People today:
  • Eat at restaurants less often.
  • Buy less clothing, or shop at discount retailers to save money.
  • Purchase more fuel-efficient, less expensive cars.
  • Take public transportation, bike to work/school or carpool.
  • Vacation locally, less often or not at all.
  • Develop an overall mentality to curtail spending.
Which triggers an immediate impact on clients:
  • Lower sales mean leaner budgets across the board -- including marketing.
  • Ad dollars are refocused on value brands.
  • Price points on products from airfares to chemicals soar as a result of higher energy costs.
  • Lower profits mean every vendor relationship comes under greater scrutiny.
Eventual impact on agencies:
  • Marketing agencies of all sizes need to be more proactive in understanding the changing mindset of the consumer. Messages that motivated Americans six months ago may be different today. People are worried about feeding their families, getting to work and paying their rising bills. Will humor work? Or will a more serious tone be more effective? I believe it's not the tone as much as the message: Agencies must empathize with consumers and appeal to their immediate needs. To better apply that, we need to be out there talking to people, poring through research and interpreting it on behalf of our clients.
  • If you think $4-per-gallon gasoline doesn't affect your agency job, you are mistaken. When a client cuts its marketing budget to counter rising fuel costs, your job may be in jeopardy. Or that raise you were counting on. Or that new laptop.
  • Nervous clients make for nervous agencies. It's contagious. And no shop does its best work under those conditions.
  • Creative is starting to wear thin. Frankly, I'm tired of ads showing the increasing numbers at gas stations. Surely there are more innovative ways to communicate in the inflationary times we are living in.
This is but a sampling of the implications of higher gas costs. We're all upset about it. But, as marketers, we can do something about it in our own little way. Time to listen more carefully to consumers and clients. Time to innovate more often. Time to ride your bike to work.
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