Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me

What can we say about the economic and advertising environment we are now in? Haven’t we been trying to mount a comeback for the better part of 3 years now?

Having been through several economic cycles like this one in my business life, I know there will be a resurrection of a growth mentality at some point in our future. The trouble is, comebacks are usually so imperceptible at first that you can’t even recognize them. Then, they creep along for long periods, without being generally acknowledged as comebacks. People are still talking about “these troubled economic times” long after they are actually over.

What is it about the human mind that makes it almost incapable of imagining anything but the circumstances it finds itself in? We are so adapted to survival in harsh environments that we cannot think of anything but what we see immediately around us. The modern feedback mechanism of the media adds to this. Like weathermen chasing a hoped-for storm, commentators on war, the economy, advertising, you name it, can only talk about what everyone else thinks is appropriate to talk about. They all talk at the same time, all with a predilection for the worst, so the noise level on the given subject of the day is deafening, and usually negative. Except, of course, in good times, when exactly the opposite phenomenon takes place. Talk of the “long boom” replaces all reason in private conversations and in all corners of the media so that we abandon ourselves to the infinite upside.



Well, somewhere underneath the rising and falling of our personal expectations and the cacophony from the public commentators, real life and the real economy chug onward with only minor variances in rates of steady expansion over very long periods of time. And during all of those times, brands must be managed, ad budgets planned and executed and investments made for the long-term well-being of businesses. Those investments are advertising. And big reductions in ad spending are just as disastrous for the health of a business as big increases are wasteful. In fact, sometimes I believe that the perceived wisdom of the day by which business leaders slash or increase their marketing spending is what actually causes economic cycles. After all, if you believe in advertising, then it must have some effect on a macro level as well as the micro.

So, if the people who preach the gospel of advertising can get the brand managers to spend their ad dollars like they believe in an upturn, one might actually happen. Do I expect that to occur just because it’s “right” or “smart?” Not really. Not in any mass or general way. A few savvy marketers will spend wisely and heavily into the upcoming upturn and thereby gain a leg up on their competition. But, in my experience, the large mass of company managers will keep looking around until they see others say “the tide has turned.” Only then will those me-too marketers be willing to take a risk on growth. But, of course, by then there will be no risk attached and no competitive gains to be made.

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