Poll: In a Recession, Ads Should Have Added ‘Value’

When the economy was ticking along nicely (or, at least, we thought it was), many brands’ advertising tended to convey a subtext that said, in effect, “You deserve the best of everything, and we’re here to give it to you!” With consumers shifting into austerity mode for the duration of the downturn, that sort of thing won’t play well. So, what is the most effective tone for advertising during a recession?

That question was posed to members of LinkedIn — targeted to those in advertising and marketing jobs — in online polling conducted for AdweekMedia in April and May. Picking from a menu of five choices, respondents gave an outright majority of the vote (52 percent) to “a focus on value.” “Empathetic realism” was a distant runner-up, at 15 percent of the tally, with “same rules apply as at other times” coming in third (at 13 percent). Registering in single digits were “lighthearted escapism” (9 percent) and “a focus on price” (8 percent). See here for the full results of that polling. (And see here to participate in another advertising-related LinkedIn poll for AdweekMedia.)

There wasn’t a wide gender gap in the findings, with “a focus on value” winning just over half the votes of the poll’s women (54 percent) and men (52 percent). Age was a bit more of a dividing line. Majorities in all age cohorts picked “a focus on value” as the most effective tone for advertising in a recession, with the tally ranging from a high of 57 percent among the 18-24-year-olds to 51 percent among the 25-34s and the 35-54s.

But those in the 55-and-older cohort had an above-average propensity to say “same rules apply as at other times,” with 20 percent picking that answer — vs. 15 percent of the 35-54s, 12 percent of the 25-34s and 11 percent of the 18-24s.

Depending on your taste in such matters, you could interpret this to mean (a) the older folks are set in their ways or (b) that, having been through a few downturns in their lives, they believe human nature doesn’t change dramatically even when circumstances do so.

If you think money is no object for New Yorkers, note that survey respondents based there were more than twice as likely as those nationally to pick “a focus on price,” with 22 percent choosing that answer. Respondents in Chicago, where people still imagine the Cubs will someday win a World Series, yielded a far-above-average vote for “lighthearted escapism” (26 percent).

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