Marketing Messages Get a Reality Check

Traditional values, not glitz, will engage consumers in '09.

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The decision in the court of consumer opinion is loud and clear — get real.

Forget about focusing marketing messages on bling, fantasies or the idea that something is simply new and fabulous, agency executives and trend forecasters said. What’s going to resonate with consumers in 2009 is an embrace of traditional values, a story about a product’s heritage or an empathetic signal that a marketer knows of the trials — and hopes — of the public in a downtrodden economy.

Cartier gets it, and so does Target, Stella McCartney, Wal-Mart and Starbucks, among others marketing, experts said.

“Consumers don’t know who to trust,” said John Gerzema, chief insights officer at Young & Rubicam, citing bank failures, decimated housing values and plummeting personal wealth.

“Marketers will flee to honesty as a safe haven,” he projected, one of many who said simpler, straightforward marketing plays will hit home with skeptical shoppers. “A lot of what’s riding on the new Obama administration — cleaning up hypocrisy and toxic assets and emphasizing integrity — will cross over into the marketing sphere.”

With Americans cutting back, saving more and reassessing what’s important in their lives, they may be unpersuaded by campaigns suggesting they purchase fashions, jewelry and watches simply because they’re newly offered and they’ll look attractive in them.

In a period of uncertainty and prudence, “one message people want to hear is: ‘We know what you’re going through,” said Marian Salzman, chief marketing officer at Porter Novelli. “There is disgust with bling, things that glitter — except with images and messages of romance and enduring values. The notion of what it takes to be part of a community is going to be a lot more modest; not lavish, like a catered dinner party.”

Campaigns marketing executives consider in tune with these pragmatic times include:

• Print ads from Cartier spotlighting its heritage by stating “One hundred years of U.S. passion and free spirit. 1909 to 2009.”

• Target’s signature red, oversize postcard mailer asking, “Looking for a new place to buy electronics and housewares? Target is here for you.” So were photos of hot brands at “unbelievable prices,” like a Sony flat-screen TV and an Apple iPhone, and an offer of $10 off on such things through Jan. 31.

• Starbucks’ “It’s bigger than coffee” call for community service and query “You in?” via TV commercials, as impetus for people to get involved, post their commitment to service on the brand’s Web site (and win a free cup of coffee in January).

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