Advertising in an 'Economic Downturn' and what can be learned from it

Is someone wasting your advertising budget?

As regular readers of the Sell! Sell! blog will know, we've heard there might be a recession, but decided not to participate.

But the ad-blogs and the trades are buzzing with recession-talk, asking how to deal with one from an advertising point of view, and wondering what we can expect. We can't escape the chatter.

These articles always turn up the same buzz-phrases and advice. One particular is that to be successful, client companies should advertise their way-through a recession. Well that's easy advice to give when it's not your money.

What a lot of people who are in the advertising business forget is that marketing departments are under a lot of pressure within client companies. Even before this current downturn, margins have been increasingly squeezed, and there has been increased pressure to make savings on all costs.

Few companies are run at a senior level by people from a marketing background these days, and marketing - and the costs of marketing - are viewed with some scepticism. It's quite understandable really - advertising is expensive, and advertising specialists are expensive. And it's very hard to pin down the exact contribution that advertising makes to the bottom line. Sure, people try with research and testing, but advertising research is not scientific and is often very misleading.

No, what clients need from agencies at this time is not glib 'advice'. They need their agencies to use every penny of their budget extremely wisely. To treat it as if it were their own money.

Agencies need to take a step back and look at the advertising they are creating and ask 'Is this really doing the job it's supposed to do? Is it doing it well? Would I be happy to put my own money into this? Is there another way of doing this that would be more effective?'

Yes, what clients need is agency people using their creativity to make sure that everything is as effective as possible, and making sure that the advertising can offer a strong return on investment. Then they will be able to justify those expensive advertising costs to the rest of their company.

If you believe in the power of advertising to have a fundamental, positive and identifiable effect on a company and its bottom line, then you should go into any 'downturn' with a happy heart and your sleeves rolled up, because it's going to get very interesting.

What Can We Learn?

Well this is where it gets really interesting.

All advertising is meant to work. All advertising is meant to offer a value to companies over its cost. What a downturn/recession will do is make more people focus on that.
But what about when the economy goes gangbusters again? Does that signify a time that it's okay to waste advertising money again?

If you think about it, if anyone is planning to do anything different in a downturn, that means that they acknowledge that what they were doing previously was not good enough.
It gives me hope. We're in a time when I feel a lot of advertising people (and some marketing people) and agencies have lost their way a bit. They've forgotten why advertising was invented in the first place, they've forgotten that the sole reason for creativity in advertising is to increase effectiveness.

They have let advertising become nebulous, pseudo-scientific and bullshitty to the point where it is treated with as much scepticism as it ever has. And you have actual advertising people running around saying that the aim of advertising isn't to sell things, and other such nonsense.

In a nutshell, a lot of agencies and agency people are wasting their clients' money.
And some of those marketing people are going along with all of the nonsense.

What the recession will hopefully do is remind everyone in the business what it is they're meant to be doing, and to get them back on track. So that punters won't be subjected to meaningless nonsense on telly, in their papers, and on'tinternet - and so that businesses feel like their advertising budget is being spent in a well thought through, meaningful way.

What it hopefully will make people realise is that the type of advertising you do in a recession is the advertising you should always be doing.


  1. I couldn't agree more - constraints make you try harder and be more resourceful.

    I think many advertising campaigns would be far more successful had the budgets been smaller and more emphasis was put on the idea and the product rather than the flashy execution.

  2. Spot on. Ain't it funny how so many agencies change their tune when the going gets tough...


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