From the CMO Archives: “Soothe Sayers”

Collateral Damage asked for it, so you got it: an article we published in December 2004 on marketing in times of high anxiety. The lessons are still relevant (perhaps even more so) today. As an aside, this was my favorite cover ever. I’m still trying to figure out how the photog convinced the CMO of MasterCard to stand in the middle of Times Square with mid-day traffic whizzing by:

How to Market in a Crisis

How do marketers respond to an economic crisis of epic proportions? You have several options:

Deny it. Pretend that you’ve done nothing wrong, and affirm that the implosion of your company was, in fact, part of your business strategy all along. From Goldman Sachs’ homepage

“Becoming a bank holding company is part of our tradition of quick and effective response to market conditions. Our strategy of being an advisor, financier, and co-investor remains clear and unchanged.” – Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO 

Ignore it. Crisis? What crisis? Microsoft is reportedly spending $300 million on its latest Windows campaign. The theme: Life without walls. I guess if your house has been foreclosed, that might not be too much of a stretch. Think of Steve Martin in The Jerk: “I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. Just this PC with Vista. And this wireless keyboard. And that’s all I need. And this Zune. My PC, my keyboard, my Zune, Mobile Windows, and this XBox - that’s all I need.”

Reassure. In Ad Age, Weber Shandwick’s Paul Jensen says its no time for marketers at financial services firms (the ones that are still standing, anyway) to hide under a rock:

“Companies need to rise above fear and continue to communicate. Control what you can and don’t get fixated on what you can’t. The old rules of transparency and consistency still apply.”

Fidelity gets it. It has devoted the main content well on its home page to the crisis, under the heading “In markets like these, Fidelity can help.” AIG, however, offers no such reassurances from its home page, save for a link to a press release regarding its bailout (placed, ironically enough, above its “Natural Disaster Hotline” number for hurricane victims). How about a hotline for man-made disasters?

Circle the wagons. Time to pull back the reins on your marketing spend? Ad spending was down 3.7% in the second quarter and 1.6% for the first six months of this year compared to the year-ago periods, MediaPost reports. A TNS VP calls it “collateral damage.” And that was before we found out that our entire financial system is teetering on the brink of insolvency. Online spending is still growing, but that growth is “decelerating,” says MediaPost. Expect more drastic cuts on marketing spend through the end of the year.

Bend over and grab your ankles. This is gonna hurt!

So Much for a Free Market Economy

The U.S. government’s latest bailout – $85 billion for AIG – simply reinforces bad (catastrophic) corporate behavior and certainly won’t solve any systemic issues with the way these companies do business. By throwing good (taxpayer) money after bad, the feds are effectively telling corporate leaders that it’s OK to mess up on a monumental scale, and that if your lobby is powerful enough then Uncle Sam will take care of you. For the good of the country, of course.