How should advertisers cope with wary consumers?
As nervousness pervades the news, Hyundai recently unveiled a commercial where they promised, "If in the next year, you lose your income, we'll let you return it."
Wait a minute—are they suggesting the car won’t be sitting in your McMansion’s roundabout driveway with a big red bow on it, ready for you to cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway with no other cars in sight?
Yes, Hyundai actually raised the specter that you may not drive off into the sunset for 7 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. It’s either drive it back or get a visit from the repo man, and they’d rather not send a tow truck. But it’s a clever idea. In addressing the economic climate straight on, Hyundai got refreshingly honest.
In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of reality TV. Are we going to start seeing reality advertising?
Advertisers always put on the rose colored glasses. Our deepest fears, insecurities or unmeet needs were solved in 30 seconds where everyone was smiling, looking sexy, and clothes came out whiter than white and cleaner than the leading brand. Whatever your problem, commercials had the answer. All you had to do was obey.
That’s getting tougher right now because advertising subsidizes the media—and these days, all the news media drums up is bleak economic news. Consequently it’s hard for any advertiser to come out and push conspicuous consumption. Or is it? We certainly haven’t left our dreams or upwardly mobile aspirations behind, even if they don’t seem immediately attainable.
Marketers are hardly altruistic, but a few of them like Hyundai are learning that people need some assurances right now. Brokerage firms are on TV telling people to stay the course with their investments and not panic. GM took out a trade ad to apologize for their past screw-ups and promising to do better in the future. You might think the majority of marketers will unveil a new understanding, a new empathy for these tough times. Forget it.
Actually, you’re going to see more marketers do almost anything to move the product this year. There won’t be any subtlety in the selling. A Dodge dealer in Florida is offering a “Buy One Get One Free” deal on cars. Subway stopped talking about newly svelte Jared and now pushes “$5 footlongs.” If everyone is fearful for their company’s fate—and afraid to lose their job—they’ll do just about anything to boost sales, and the stock price, in the short term.
We’ve always had the short-term sales boost in some form: coupons, sweepstakes, etc. But those were occasional. I remember when Macy’s used to have a “one-day sale” on a Wednesday every few months. Now it seems they have one every week. That’s what shoppers are used to, and Macy’s has no other choice. The focus on moving merchandise immediately will get very tiresome very fast if it’s not done properly.
Some of our clients do care about long-term business building ideas. Some don’t. I think the ad industry needs to be very, very careful about kowtowing to the clients who only care about this month or this fiscal quarter. Because if you’re asked for immediate results and you achieve that objective, you’ll be asked to repeat it constantly while getting better results each time. And if you don’t increase short-term sales at the client’s imperative, you’re fired. Either way, it’s not all that fun.
One thing is certain: ad agencies and clients have to think fast, and react to the news and the economic climate. Even if you have an eye on long-term success, the reality of today can’t be ignored. Many people don’t feel like spending on big-ticket items. And they’re trying to cut back on small items that may be extraneous. We have to do everything we can to make sure our client’s product or service is not perceived as one of those.
But don’t panic. And do your best to convince your clients not to panic. No one makes good decisions when they’re panicked. People still need a diversion, a laugh, a way of feeling better about themselves. Advertising can provide that.
Or, if levity isn’t called for, and your agency floats a creative brief for an assignment that includes the words “reassuring” or “honest,” hold yourself and your client to that tonality by ensuring your concepts reflect the reality of today’s news and nervous consumers.
Because if your clients hit the wrong note in this economy, you’ll both get a dose of reality, and it won’t be pretty.
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.
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