Marketing in a Recession: New! Improved!

| 4/20/2009 11:06:20 AM

The HubMarketers are doing some serious soul searching these days. It’s all over the pages of the January-February issue of the marketing industry magazine The Hub, as the people who sell stuff reflect on just what it is they’re supposed to be selling now. There’s a vague recognition that the correct answer is not “the same old crap,” but bold and definitive answers are scarce as the writers struggle mightily to break free of marketing speak and deeply embedded consumerist values. And every one of the essayists closes with a conclusion that only a marketer could concoct:

Spencer Hapoienu writes that marketing is in need of an overhaul in “The Obama Challenge.” Despite the crass subheadline—“One should never waste a crisis … and by all accounts this one will be a doozy”—Hapoienu asks a high-minded question: “Is there a way that every brand can participate in improving the lives of its customers beyond simply selling a product?” He suggests that being greener is a key goal, but undermines his point by positing that Procter & Gamble set the bar for value-added marketing with its repositioning of Pampers a few years ago. (Google “disposable diapers” and “landfill” to find out how much value they add to the planet.) Conclusion: “This time is a new opportunity for marketing to lead, leaving a mark every brand can be proud of, while creating a fan base of enthusiastic and grateful customers.”

Tim Manners also starts from a reflective position in “Crisis of Relevance”: “As marketers, we owe it to ourselves, our shoppers and, yes, our country, to take a good hard look at how we may have contributed to the sad state of our economy today.” He suggests marketers need to figure out how to “help solve people’s problems and … live happier lives.” But he too rests his case on specious examples: “Dunkin’ Donuts makes a difference by serving up a workaday pink-and-orange cup of joe. … Kleenex innovated its way to relevance by adding germ-killers to its tissues. … Levi’s innovated its way to relevance by coming up with wardrobe solutions for men.” If overhyped coffee, medicated tissues, and Dockers are the answer to our crisis, we’re in more serious trouble than I thought. Conclusion: “This is a painful moment for marketers, no doubt about it. But it is also a moment when those of us who live up to all our chatter about being relevant will flourish.”

Dori Molitor puts an upbeat motivational-speech spin on things in “Everyone Matters,” which posits that “we all want to know that our lives have a purpose that’s larger than ourselves.” She steps up and criticizes many companies for failing to change their ways, but again her vision of a better world fails to inspire. She notes two recent cases in which retail salespeople helped her and her daughter solve pressing fashion dilemmas: One employee delivered a missing belt to their house after work, and another went “on break” to help her find what she wanted at a competitor’s store. Apparently, the future of retail is low-paid employees doing customers favors while off the clock. Conclusion: “Every ounce of my being believes that the greatest opportunity for brands is to help us live better, more purposeful lives. Treating us like we matter is a huge step in that direction and sometimes it’s as simple as looking us in the eye and being yourself. Humanity is all it takes.”

Elizabeth Carter
4/27/2009 7:17:48 PM

Reading your article reminded me of the recent editorial debates in the media wondering "What would Ayn Rand do?" In Atlas Shrugged, she shows that she believes management and a union can work hand in hand for healthy capitalism in motion, whereas misuse of legal or ethical power in unions can be consequenced in the same way as misuse of power in any arena, including the business arena. Hank Reardon, the industrial protagonist, ran a union shop, and willingly so. When the government passed legislation forcing all employees to remain in their jobs, the head of the union was first to quit. Here is a quote: "The first man to quit at Rearden Steel was Tom Colby, rolling mill foreman, head of the Rearden Steel Workers Union. For ten years, he had heard himself denounced throughout the country, because his was a "company union" and because he had never engaged in a violent conflict with the management. This was true: no conflict had ever been necessary; Rearden paid a higher wage scale than any union scale in the country, for which he demanded--and got--the best labor force to be found anywhere"...(Tom Colby) said, "They've been telling us for years that it's you against me, Mr. Rearden. But it isn't. It's Orren Boyle and Fred Kinnan (looters at the top) against you and me." (Signet, a division of Penguin Group, 50th Anniversary Edition, 2007, p. 512-513.

Tom Hendricks
4/21/2009 10:35:28 AM

Pretty sure this isn't a Utne stand, but I think the ad saturated world may be coming to an end. Big ads always end up with advertiser pressure on content. It's ruined newspapers. They've shifted from pleasing the reader with a good paper, to pleasing advertisers and it shows. Our homes are attacked with spam in our mailbox, computer, phone, etc. Just imagine if every ad and billboard and commercial wasn't to promote buying but had a science fact. Imagine what we would know! Ads promote selfishness instead of sharing. Ads promote waste instead of conservation. Etc. A major component of the art revolution is a no ad newspaper and a no ad or sponsor review service. No wonder the mainstream media is against the new art and media - it attacks their abuses.

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