Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Great piece in the Wall Street Journal on positioning in a down economy:

Marketing executives say it is a classic strategy during recessions, or after traumatic events like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The idea is to break through to consumers who are being inundated by depressing news. “In all this doom and gloom, happiness is the obvious counterpoint strategy,” says Nick Bartle, director of behavioral planning for Omnicom’s BBDO North America.

It has obvious risks, too. Grinning through your ads in a rotten economy when consumers are deeply concerned about their financial future can seem insensitive or obtuse. “It does have immense pitfalls if executed improperly,” Mr. Bartle says. “You could look like a brand with its head in the sand.”

To do it right, he says, marketers have to be specific about how their products offer happiness, whether it’s a cigar that brings comfort to the smoker or a toy that makes the consumer smile. They also need to be careful about the placement and timing of the spots, he says, recalling a whiskey ad celebrating Ireland that ran in the London market shortly after an attack by the Irish Republican Army. Running an optimistic ad after a particularly steep stock market drop could also backfire.

“It’s tricky to pull off,” says Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor Associates, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC, “because being effective in advertising is communicating that you understand what’s in your customers’ heads. And clearly what’s in people’s heads right now is concern about the economy.”

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