There was an article in a recent issue of Inside Direct Mail written by Ken Schneider…we thought the message was both accurate and perfect for this blog. As a result, we got his permission to reprint it below.
Back when I was a rising young copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, upper management always stressed to our clients that slow economic times were not the time to cut back on advertising expenditures and lie low. Just the opposite, they preached the Contrarian Rule of Ad Spending — rushing forward when others were pulling back. With less media clutter to break through, the client’s advertising message would come through loud and clear. More so, even, than when times were good.
This Contrarian Rule of Ad Spending comes to mind these days as we all are struggling with the higher costs of doing business. Many of you have decided to cut back on the size and number of your mailings. Some have opted out of the mail altogether. And there are many reasons why these decisions are made.
But think about this. As times get tough, maybe your product is one of the few things your customers DON’T want to give up. They may decide to not go to the movies, but yet they still want to curl up with a magazine at night. They may save money by eating out less, but they then decide to stay home and cook — so they may choose to buy more recipe books and food magazines.
They may decide to cancel that big vacation trip this year, but they still might enjoy subscribing to a travel magazine to help them plan for next year. Or they might choose to read a shelter title or two to get ideas for home decorating and fix-ups, in lieu of buying a new house. And the list could go on and on.
Studies over a course of previous recessions have demonstrated that companies which do not cut back their advertising budgets achieve greater increases in profit than companies which do cut back. When advertising continues in bad times, share-of-market goes up.
One of my former employers, David Ogilvy, said…
“I have come to regard advertising as part of
the product, to be treated as a production cost,
not a selling cost. It follows that it should
not be cut back when times are hard, any more
than you would stint any other essential
ingredient in your product.”
Here’s another way to look at it, from a story I often heard in agency presentations…
On a train journey to Texas, a friend asked Mr.
Wrigley why, with the lion’s share of the market,
he continued to advertise his chewing gum.
‘How fast do you think this train is going?’
asked Wrigley. ‘I would say about ninety miles
an hour.’ ‘Well,’ said Wrigley. ‘Do you suggest
we unhitch the engine?’
Mr. Wrigley got it! He understood that advertising was the engine that drove the company, pushed it forward, and maintained its momentum. He realized that if he only advertised when there was money in the budget…or when printing costs were in a lull…or when sales were so bad he HAD to — the company was in big trouble. Of course, he “got it” to the point that it was company policy — as a matter of course — to fund advertising at budget levels that allowed the advertising to do its job.
But I’m afraid that in many cases in the direct mail world, advertising budgets just don’t get the attention they deserve. It seems to me (although I may be wrong) that direct mail gets whatever’s left after all other funds have been pigeonholed.
How wonderful it would be if we, as practitioners of the craft of creating effective direct mail advertising, were given the budgets necessary to allow us to do great direct mail advertising. To build the engine Mr. Wrigley talked about that drives sales, gains momentum, and takes the company where it wants to go.
But all too often, advertising is the first expense corporations cut when times are bad. And it should be just the opposite.
Now I’m not naive. And I know why it happens. Take consumer magazines as an example. When the economy lags, advertisers place fewer ads, and consequently magazines have less revenue coming in. Less revenue coming in prompts management to cut expenditures. And that means cutting back on — or eliminating — direct mail campaigns for generating subscriptions. But if new subscribers aren’t being acquired, the circulation numbers advertisers look at when times are good again may not be so attractive. It’s a vicious cycle — and a conundrum — that I’m sure makes a circulation manager’s job no day at the beach.
All I’m advocating is some brave new thinking within the halls of corporate America that embraces the power of advertising — good advertising — and realizes the important competitive advantage of being out there with your message when the other guys are not.
Notice I said “good” advertising. Taking the bold step to advertise during hard times is a fool’s errand if you don’t put your best foot forward. In times like these, it’s more important than ever that you hire the very best talent to create the advertising you’re banking on so much. Now, the best costs more, but isn’t it worth it?
I’m reminded of the question: How can you afford
to use top talent? The answer: How can you afford
I also advise mailing packages that are engaging, energetic, and alive. Packages that capture the personality of your product or brand and place it in the best possible light. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money, because no one will pay attention to your message. Again, as David Ogilvy was fond of saying, “You can’t save souls in an empty church.”
Direct mail, of course, is designed to generate an immediate response. And the goal is to achieve that response at the lowest cost possible. However, I think there are times when it’s desirable to think in terms of “the brand” — and attempt to write and design a package that sells the sizzle with the steak. It will likely be a more expensive package to produce and mail, but it should have long-term benefits beyond the immediate response. Sometimes we get so concerned with getting the sale (cheaply) that we forget that we can get both the sale AND build the brand in the consumers mind at the same time (although not as cheaply.)
I doubt Mr. Wrigley’s advertising was designed for a “direct response,” but he certainly understood the concept of making multiple “impressions” in the consumers’ minds. The goal was to make the Wrigley brand “top of mind” with prospective buyers.
We as direct mailers should think about that as we try to decide whether or not to spend advertising dollars in a down economy.
About The Author
Ken Schneider is an award-winning direct mail writer/designer specializing in magazine, book, and newsletter promotions. With more than 40 circulation direct marketing awards, he has been honored more than any other individual or direct mail organization. Ken’s extensive national ad agency experience formed the basis for Ken Schneider & Associates’ expansion into DRTV, radio, web and non-DR brand advertising. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through kenschneiderdirect.com.