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Tell me whether you've heard this one: "All the research shows that companies that spend on marketing during a recession come out ahead of the competition as the economy rebounds."

I would estimate that I have heard that statement from a marketer at least once at every conference and networking event that I've attended in the past year. That's a catchy buzz phrase—and if people believe it, even better. As principal of a marketing agency, I need clients to trust in the value of marketing.

But here's the thing: What research? From the myriad marketers from whom I've heard utter those words of wisdom, I have yet to hear the name of a researcher or report related to those findings. Well, I decided to call their bluff on this one and look at "all the research" that my colleagues continue to tout.

Upon conducting an online search, I found several articles and papers that reference studies that support the sound bite:

  • "How Advertising in Recession Periods Affects Sales," American Business Press, Inc., 1979
  • ABP/Meldrum & Fewsmith study, 1979
  • Dhalla, Nairman K. "Advertising as an antirecession tool," Harvard Business Review, Jan.-Feb. 1980
  • Kijewski, Dr. Valerie. "Media Advertising When Your Market Is in a Recession," Cahners Advertising Research Report. The Strategic Planning Institute, 1982
  • McGraw-Hill Research. Laboratory of Advertising Performance Report 5262, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986.
  • Greenburg, Eric Rolfe. "Fortune Follows the Brave," Management Review, January 1993

Eureka! With these studies in hand, I too could tell clients to "Spend, spend, spend!" And, they wouldn't have to take my word for it because now I've got backup. I just needed to brush up on the data.

Apparently, a citation for a 25-year-old research report is a lot easier to dig up than the actual report. I was able to find a more recent study as well as some summarized findings on the reports above; and, as with most data, there are several ways to spin the information.

In a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing titled "Turning adversity into advantage: Does proactive marketing during a recession pay off?"* the authors note that companies that actively market during a down economy report positive results from the effort.

Now I could leave you with that or also tell you that they caution that this does not apply across the board and it is not recommended for all companies to increase marketing spending in a recession.

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Christian Shea is a principal at P4MV ( and has been developing measurable marketing strategies for organizations across a wide range of vertical markets since 1995.