Marketing to the Heart in a Recession

March 26th, 2008

Every economic expert may not agree that we are in a recession, but most concede that one is certainly on the way. The economic downturn will likely have an impact on a wide array of business sectors and will certainly have a psychological effect on most Americans. So, how is a marketer to act in these uncertain times?

There are no hard and fast rules for recession marketing. But one overarching principle that applies in tough times and prosperity alike is – “Show them that you care.” The ubiquitous “them” we refer to here is, of course, the customer. And there’s something to be said for some empathy and caring when marketing in a recession or any time.

We can learn a lesson on the subject of recession marketing from – of all places- a classic ‘80s movie Mr. Mom. I take many more life lessons from Mr. Mom, but that’s a story for a whole different time.

In the movie, Terri Garr plays Caroline, a house wife who goes back to work at an advertising agency when her husband is unexpectedly laid off. When all the ideas for the big Schooner Tuna campaign fall flat, Caroline draws on her experience as a house wife and suggests that Schooner Tuna needs to show the women it is marketing to that the company is not “out of touch.” She says Schooner needs to show women “we care”. And with that comes the concept of Schooner Tuna, the tuna with a heart.

In the commercial that follows, the President of Schooner reads a statement in front of an American flag with “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” echoing in the background. He says that Schooner Tuna cares and “during this period of economic crisis, Schooner will drop the price of each can of tuna 50 cents. When these difficult times are over we will return to our regular pricing, but until that, remember, we’re in this together.” As Caroline puts it, it’s a return to Americanism when Americans need it most.

So, am I advocating blanket price slashing as a recession cure-all? No.

But in a recession it is critical to remember your customer, remember to show them that you understand their plight and show them that you care. And like Schooner Tuna remember that we’re in this together.  After all, this is 2008 and going for the heart is not just for tuna anymore.

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