Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Advertising in a downtown

i'd like to congratulate the fine marketing and communications folks at Emerson for bucking the trend of companies cutting their advertising and marketing budgets in a kneejerk reaction to the economic meltdown. the company recently announced the next phase of its corporate advertising campaign, called "It's Never Been Done Before."

henry ford -- who himself probably knew a thing or two about downturns -- made famous the following: "A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time."

let's think about this a minute and see if together we can figure out a couple of key reasons why advertising in a downturn makes tremendous sense. even a 5th grader can get this (not that i'm smarter than one). so you play the moderator, and i'll play the elementary school kid:

you: are you more likely to notice a company's advertising when it has a lot of competition or when it's out there more or less by itself?
me or a 5th grader: well, that depends on whether it's an ambercrombie & fitch ad, which i'm going to notice no matter how many other ads are out there because they have the cutest guys in them and then i'm going to insist that my mom buy me a a&f $100 t-shirt that's ripped and stained and hope she won't go all crazy on me in the store... but sure, i'm more likely to notice an ad that's not fighting with hundreds of others for my attention.

you: which do you think would be less expensive ... advertising when there are a lot of other companies that want to run ads, or when the media outlets don't have a lot of business coming in and might be a little more desperate?
me or a 5th grader: i think it's like getting my allowance -- it's always easier to hit the 'rents up for more when they need something from me, like, to run and get the plunger from the basement before the stopped-up toilet turns their bathroom into a hazmat site. that was worth an extra $50 the other day, and i swear, i probably left money on the table. next time i oughtta ask for $100. so i'd say, you can probably get a better deal when they're desperate.

you: what do you think is the likely result of advertising when your competitors aren't, and spending less money on it than you would otherwise to get the same, or better, results?
me or a 5th grader: uh... well... i guess that result would be ....good?

here's my question: how could it possibly be bad?

emerson gets this simple idea. i personally think the creative could be a little snappier (who hasn't heard all this "what you never thought possible" stuff before? weren't we all around for ibm and intel's campaigns in the 80s, motorola and at&t in the 90s, etc.?) but i give them a bunch credit for simply putting the work on the street. print, online, tv, about $10M in total, i think. and these folks are not the size of GE, nor are they as cash-flush as IBM or Cisco, and they've only been at this brand thing about 7 years. but it seems they clearly get it.

we all likely would say that stopping a clock to save time is just plain silly. everyone knows that won't work. stopping advertising to save money is equally silly, because that also doesn't work. it's been proven in numerous studies (one of the best by mcgraw-hill) that companies which advertise during a downtown are able to drive revenue and margin increases over their competitors' in the recovery. yet, many business leaders still seem to think that driving a stake in their company's heart while its legs are being chained is a wise response to the situation.

i don't argue that, especially for smaller businesses, it can be a tough choice between funding advertising and marketing, and people. workforce reductions are nobody's favorite. but i think we need to make the point to employees that if the company doesn't work to promote and sustain its brand(s) during the tough times, it will only result in having to let more people go in the future. better to bit the bullet now, i think, and take advantage of the open field and favorable media pricing available.

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