Marketer of the Year 2009

Hyundai, Walmart Show How to Thrive in Recession

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

It's no coincidence that the two biggest vote earners in our Marketer of the Year polling embodied one of the oldest adages in business: Don't stop marketing in a recession.

Indeed, Hyundai and Walmart, which combined for 70% of the vote for Marketer of the Year, are textbook examples of using down times to make huge bold statements -- and big gains.

As the U.S. automotive industry all but imploded, Hyundai made a couple of huge plays. It returned to the Super Bowl for a second year. And, with General Motors backing out of the Oscars broadcast, it parked itself there, too.

Meanwhile, Walmart blazed ahead. Its first-half measured media spend was up 32% for the first six months of 2008 to $423 million while it continued to beef up an increasingly robust digital domain.

But neither of these companies was simply throwing money into a vacuum, hoping some extra spending while others pulled back was going to gain it market share.

Spending is nothing without ideas, and Hyundai and Walmart had the right ideas at the right time. Walmart, of course, had the benefit of its everyday low pricing being a pretty valuable positioning while unemployment continued to climb and the stimulus petered out. It also made better use of analytics, increasing customer loyalty and getting more out of existing stores.

Hyundai, meanwhile, didn't simply sit on its own low prices and sector-leading warranties. In a move meant to alert consumers that it stood behind its brand and with its buyers, it introduced the Hyundai Assurance program, promising to take back a car if a consumer lost her job. If there was any doubt that the message resonated, it was quickly dispelled as other automakers jumped on the bandwagon.

Even in the worst of times, consumers still have needs -- and that translates to opportunity. If a marketer can strike upon real ideas that benefit consumers and put some spending behind those ideas, it's practically a guaranteed business builder.

It's understandable that a few struggling marketers might not have the money or resources to make big moves in the midst of a recession.

But plenty of them have both, yet are paralyzed by fear. The lesson from Walmart and Hyundai is clear: Those who make bold moves will win, and those who retrench will be left behind.

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