TOPICS > Nation

Marketing Mood

December 27, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: In the wake of September 11, advertisers are struggling to determine what will sell in a different America. The $250 billion-a-year advertising industry was already suffering from the fall of dot-coms and a declining economy when terrorism turned its business upside down.

ALISON FAHEY, Adweek Magazine: I think by most estimates, we are looking at a 6 percent decline this year from last year.

TERENCE SMITH: Alison Fahey is editor of Adweek magazine.

ALISON FAHEY: What’s more disturbing, I think, is also an expected decline for next year, and that hasn’t happened in quite some time, where there has been two consecutive years of declines.

TERENCE SMITH: Immediately after the attacks, patriotism was a dominant and welcome theme. Ads that depicted the Manhattan skyline and violence disappeared. But industry surveys showed that Americans were wary of any ads that might trade on tragedy.

JOHN DOONER, Chairman & CEO, IPC: People don’t want to be over-saturated by what appears to be gratuitous patriotism.

TERENCE SMITH: John Dooner is chairman and CEO of the Interpublic Group of Marketing and Advertising Companies. He says consumers are now looking for comfort when they choose a brand.

JOHN DOONER: When you have an environment that is reflective of concern of individual security and economic security, there is no question there’s a little more sobriety in it. You look towards more enduring values, traditional values.

AD NARRATOR: One summer, two friends, thirty stadiums: priceless. There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.

ALISON FAHEY: Old, big familiar brands can be comforting and reassuring to people. They remind them of a less complicated time. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, things that seem very Americana– people may be more inclined to support those brands in times like this.

TERENCE SMITH: Studies by the advertising firm Leo Burnett indicate that while the majority of Americans are ready to move on, a quarter of the population appears to be suffering lasting, negative repercussions from the events of September 11. An ad campaign must attract one audience, while not offending any other.

AD NARRATOR: You can slow down investing.

CHILD IN AD: One man who had a friend’s hat… Funny hat.

AD NARRATOR: You can’t stop curious toddlers from one day becoming college freshmen. That’s why your Morgan Stanley financial adviser will never let you lose sight of what you are investing for.

BOB BRENNAN, Leo Burnett Worldwide: People have emotional relationships with brands.

TERENCE SMITH: Bob Brennan is president of Leo Burnett Worldwide.

BOB BRENNAN: Even before September 11, we were moving away from the cynicism of the ’90s, and the hypocrisy of the ’90s to a different type of advertising which has a different type of humor, is more honest, more straightforward with people. And September 11 has kind of pushed that trend a little further, and a little faster.

TERENCE SMITH: Zany advertising, like —

AD: I’m open over here.

TERENCE SMITH: — like Southwest’s “Football” campaign… …was temporarily shelved. And many question whether outrageous ads, so successful in the ’90s…

MAN IN AD: We decided to release a pack of ravenous wolves…

TERENCE SMITH: …Will still resonate. Has the age of irony —


TERENCE SMITH: — been replaced with the culture of caution? Alison Fahey thinks consumers are ready for anything. But, she says, more cautious advertisers may mean less adventurous campaigns.

ALISON FAHEY: Advertisers are just more cautious in general. They are not spending as much money. They want to be sure that what they are doing is effective, and you might not see risk taking and creativity that you would when everybody was throwing around all sorts of money.

TERENCE SMITH: A change in tone and a reassessment of priorities may have been inevitable as the era of conspicuous consumption ended.

BOB BRENNAN: Some of the downturn in the economy was just sheer exhaustion. We bought everything we needed. How much more stuff do we need?

TERENCE SMITH: For companies in travel and tourism, the marketing route is especially treacherous. Domestic travel spending for 2001 is expected to have dropped by more than $33 billion from the previous year. United Airlines’ Jerry Dow says United went back on the air soon with ads featuring employees after surveys showed the public found employees to be credible.

MAN IN AD: As long as we stick together and stay together, no one can divide us.

TERENCE SMITH: Then, as business travelers returned, United moved to ads that were reassuring, but more upbeat.

WOMAN IN AD: And then you guys were off and flying, point “A” to point “B”, no problems, no ifs ands or buts. Woosh, you’re there.

JERRY DOW, United Airlines: The human side will… I think will continue to resonate for quite some time.

TERENCE SMITH: The upcoming Olympics in Salt Lake City give advertisers a chance to wave the American flag without appearing opportunistic. United’s “Heroes” campaign, promoted on United flights and supplemented by print ads, lets the viewers decide who the heroes are.

WOMAN IN AD: I think courage makes a hero.

TERENCE SMITH: One can think about September 11 or not.

JERRY DOW: There are definitely some people who would like to continue to think about and consider the events of September 11, but there is a great deal of the population that would like to move on and get back to business. And so the campaign, our Olympic heroes campaign, does straddle that, somewhat.

TERENCE SMITH: Marketers are seizing this opportunity for American pride with happier messages.

AD NARRATOR: At Bank of America, we really wanted to participate in the Olympic winter games.

TERENCE SMITH: Bank of America’s new ads have the softer, gentler humor that may be the hallmark of the new millennium.

AD NARRATOR: But in the end, we decided to support the real athletes, and stick to the things we do best, like online banking. Like making it easier to pay your bills.

TERENCE SMITH: Advertisers have taken heart from studies showing the resiliency of the American consumer after past crises. But with a war, anthrax scares and the continuing threat of domestic terrorism, there isn’t a road map for this one.