You know things are getting bad when all types of ads begin by offering a free tank of gas to "drive" business. Compound this with all the "recession specials" retailers are holding and you begin to wonder just how bad things really are.
But have faith, we will bounce back like we always do. I've been here before and through this same scenario three times now since I started in the advertising business in 1987. Three months after we opened our doors and signed a long time lease the market crashed. So I'm used to it. Having clients in 20 industries I can always get a good feeling for the big picture by sensing patterns across all of these sectors.
The recession is not about housing stats or revenues or anything that tangible. It's really about psychology or more importantly, it's about fear. When people stop talking about how terrible things are and start to accept the situation as "normal," then the economy will turn because people just aren't afraid anymore. The human spirit can adjust to most anything but the "unknown" is very hard to handle. Once consumers start to believe this is life as they need to know it, that's when, ironically, things shift.
So, what is recession marketing? Despite the obvious -- it is not about the numbers. It's about regaining a sense of control. This is why 100 dollars off is not as powerful as a "free tank of gas." The gas enables consumers to temporarily reclaim normalcy and go back to the way things used to be. Another way to ease concerns is by bringing back beloved ad campaigns from long ago. As we continue to get bad news about the economy we'll start to see the return of advertising icons like 'Speedy' Alka Seltzer, the popular character from the past that made everything better quickly.
But the fear that is gripping the country is also impacting marketers, most of whom use poor judgment and cut back on advertising, taking a wait and see attitude. However, the smart ones hold their ground, keep spending and steal away their competitors' customers. I would say let's take those risks and come out the winner in the end.