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During tough times, is it appropriate to continue advertising? Is it smart? Do our customers want to hear from us? Can we afford to keep talking?

As advertisers, we have all asked ourselves these questions during times of immediate crisis. The events of Sept. 11 silenced most of us as we sought comfort, struggled to understand and stepped back to offer respect.

But what about those periods of prolonged upheaval or economic downturn? As our revenues slide and customers slash their budgets, can we afford to continue advertising? Would it be prudent to take a break until the war is over or the economy recovers?

Surprisingly, when the economy slows it pays to keep talking. In fact, studies cited in the AAAAs booklet, "Advertising in a Recession," show that those companies maintaining or increasing their ad spending will emerge from a downturn ahead of their competition. That gain, measured in sales, net income or market share, will continue to grow in the years following the recession.

Following the 1981-1982 recession, McGraw-Hill evaluated the performance of 600 industrial companies. Their study found that business-to-business firms that maintained or increased their advertising expenditures during the recession grew their sales 275% from 1980-1985. Sales of those firms that cut their ad spending averaged only 19% growth during the same period.

Another study in 1990 examined 339 consumer businesses to determine the relationship between advertising spending and market share during a recession. The study found that those companies that aggressively increased their ad spending (20-100%) gained 0.9% share of market. Those that moderately increased ad spending (1-19%) gained an average of 0.5%. Those that reduced ad spending gained 0.2%.

An earlier study was conducted with industrial product and service companies. It yielded similar results. During recession, company market share increased with ad spending. Businesses increasing their ad spending "gained an average of 1.5% market share."

Can advertisers count on immediate increased ROI as a reward for their advertising aggressiveness? No, not always. But capturing market share from their more timid competition is very likely. That increased share is likely to pay out in greater profitability over the long term.

These studies do not prove a causal relationship between ad spending and market performance. However, at least six studies conducted during recessionary periods from 1960-1990 demonstrate the same apparent correlation.

So, what does that mean for advertisers today?


What do our customers care about right now? What do they want to know? Stay in touch with audience mindset via regular research.

Manage messaging.

Just because we're still talking doesn't mean we're saying the same things as before. Our conversations need to be relevant to the times.

And finally, keep talking.

Our customers want to hear from us. They want to know that we care about those things that are important to them. This is the time to strengthen our current relationships, to make new ones, and to step into the silence left by our competition.

Marianne Kirchner is Senior Vice President Grey Worldwide San Francisco

Printed with the permission of Grey Matter editorial board, Grey Global Group, Inc. 777 Third Avenue NY, NY 10017

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Marianne Kirchner is Senior Vice President Grey Worldwide San Francisco