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October 7, 2010
It’s Still the Economy, Stupid -- So We Need to be Smarter

If anything is going to change advertising, it’s a sluggish economy
While other people in the ad business fret over traditional versus digital, big agencies versus small agencies, advertising versus PR, I tend not to worry about such things. Advertising is in a state of flux, of course. I firmly believe, though, that advertising and marketing will mutate and survive -- like cockroaches.
What I do worry about is the state of the economy, which is, of course, a bigger conundrum.
Frankly, if anything is going to change advertising, it’s a perpetually sluggish economy. Because it forces all of us -- consumers, ad professionals, our clients -- to rethink our priorities, and make different kinds of purchase decisions.
In a sluggish economy, consumers gravitate to the cheapest options. And they’re choosing low-cost clothes, electronics, value meals, generic OTC drugs, and anything they can get on sale or by using a Groupon. It’s only a small percentage of people who can afford an iPad or anything that commands a premium price, and when they do, they make sacrifices elsewhere. Brand loyalty goes out the window when there’s a lower-priced item nearby.
There are also bigger media trends. I pay about $110 a month for cable -- and with a little effort I could cut that sucker out altogether. It’s not a major trend yet, but more and more people are bypassing cable to get their entertainment from their PC and/or a basic HDTV antenna. Remember, we’re raising a new generation who is used to getting everything at their fingertips -- and not inclined to pay for it. If people are continually strapped for cash, cable and satellite TV could go the way of the music industry. And if media consumption becomes a la carte, advertising will be thrown into an even murkier sea. The audience will keep migrating, and we’ll be chasing them from way behind.
We’ll need to find some way out of this economic funk. People need disposable income, particularly because advertising helps tell people what to dispose it on. I’m not sure any politician has the answer anymore than a Fortune 500 CEO does. In an age of economic uncertainty, it’s not enough for advertisers to pursue great ideas. For ad agencies and their clients, great creative and ideas are only half the answer.
We need people to spend money, and not just on life’s basic necessities. We sell frivolity quite often in advertising; conspicuous consumption pushes the economy forward. Even something that feels like an “experience” more than a product is still something to sell -- and one that not everyone can automatically afford. While we pursue great ideas, we have to keep an eye on the basics.
No matter the client or the idea, the traditional, interactive, and/or social media mix needs a path to purchase. Because clients will drop agencies that don’t think the sales process through and make it a significant part of a great idea. That doesn’t mean everything has to be a cheesy variation of “Get Yours Today.” It means that there needs to be action, not just conversation. I can hit the “Like” button pretty easily. The “Place your order” button is another matter altogether.
We’re trying harder to get attention for brands and help consumers spread the word. But it also means making it ridiculously easy for them to buy something and eliminating the impediments to those purchases. To facilitate that process, we need to be more comfortable being salespeople -- and recognizing that our clients are salespeople.
Advertising people, particularly creatives, tend to gag at the idea that they’re salespeople because it feels so sleazy. Famously, it’s only the Willy Lomans, the Jerry Lundegaards, the “Glengarry Glen Ross” types who get all the notoriety as sales role models. Believe it or not, selling doesn’t come naturally to many people who work in advertising. It always helps to believe in what you’re selling -- and secretly, a lot of ad people don’t.
For every idea and every campaign we create, while we seek to get attention, or engagement, or conversation, or whatever buzzword of the day you’d like to stick in here, there needs to be some way for everyone -- both client and agency -- to make money. Add to that the need to make customers happy and like your brand, and you’ve got a tricky task for these times we’re in. It’s what we’ve got to focus on, though.
I have no idea if the current economic situation we’re in is some sort of “new normal” we’ll have to get used to. There’s very little reliable predictor of what will happen next year, or in five years’ time. All we can focus on is the here and now. And here and now, clients have goals to reach and sales they need to make. Hopefully, we can keep our creative aim high while we reach those goals.
It’s doable. If we’re not stupid about it.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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