Just the other day, new marketing materials for Mullen, the ad shop for brands like Orbitz, Lending Tree, and TJ Maxx, landed soberly on my desk: “Marketing in the new era of fiscal responsbility; Have we been on an adolescent binge for the past 40+ years?” The New York Times’ Stuart Elliott revealed Denny’s newest TV spots: “Promoting the Weekday Express Slam — a $4 version of its signature menu item, the $5.99 Grand Slam breakfast — start off this way: “It’s one thing to bail out Wall Street. But who’s gonna bail you out?'” Crate & Barrel’s latest ad sings like a bad Wall Street hangover: “Oven-proof. Dishwasher-proof. 401(k)-proof.”
In advertising, there’s a fine line between piggyback on the grim–and clammoring for relevance. But the reality is, everyone from ad agencies to CMO’s are feeling vulnerable right now, as the prospects for slashing budgets into recession-size numbers is becoming ever the more immanent. As Elliott reports from this week’s gathering of 400 marketers and ad agencies (representing 8,000 brands) at the annual Association of National Advertisers conference, billions of dollars in ad spending is at stake (along with many of their jobs). BBDO’s CEO Andrew Robertson described the feeling as “standing on the burning bridge”–and the buzz was that car, building, and clearly financial companies were going to serve the biggest blows (I heard that Kleenex is actually increasing it’s budget, no joke. What other brands do better in times of economic turmoil? ). Reports Elliott, “A recent survey of association members found that “more than half expected spending to decline over the next six months.” Even that seems naively starry-eyed. Industry execs may want to start relocating their lunchtime accounts from Balthazar to Denny’s for that greasy $4 culinary bailout.