Companies highlight value-based offerings during financial turmoil

NEW YORK: As cash-strapped Americans cut back on their spending, companies respond with value-based campaigns.

NEW YORK: As cash-conscious Americans cut back on their spending, some companies are responding with campaigns that spotlight value-based offerings.

ConAgra, with the support of AOR Ketchum, is seeking to reach recession-focused consumers. Last week it began a promotion of its new Healthy Choice meals, Fresh Mixers, as a low-cost, healthy lunch choice for busy professionals who eat over their desks. Ivanka Trump was hired as a spokesperson for the effort.

“Everyone is looking for great value anywhere they can, so Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers [is promoted] as a healthful alternative to expensive lunches,” said Regina DeMars, PR director for ConAgra Foods.

It plans to use office humor and corporate culture in its ongoing promotion of the microwave meals, which hit supermarkets about two weeks ago. It staged “Lunch Trade” events, where the product was handed out in Manhattan and Chicago office buildings to connect with thousands of employees at companies like Bank of America and the Hearst Corporation, DeMars added.

Additionally, in November a Web site where desk-bound consumers can participate in live improvisational comedy will be added.

Kmart, too, is relying “heavily” on PR to help promote its layaway program in response to consumers' economic concerns, said Tom Aiello, division VP of PR for Sears Holdings Corp., parent company of Kmart.*

“There's great interest in what retailers are doing differently, and we're [emphasizing that we're] the only one to be doing layaway,” Aiello said.

Kmart had discontinued advertising the program in 2006. Euro RSCG Worldwide PR is helping to pitch the revived service to media outlets ranging from fashion bloggers to b-to-b publications.

The retailer is planning additional efforts like bringing on third-party sources such as financial analyst Xavier Serbia as a spokesperson to help reach Hispanic consumers, Aiello added. Serbia and analyst/spokesperson David Bach will discuss on morning talk shows how to be efficient with money, including the process of layaway.

“It comes back to listening to the consumers and getting the message out there,” Aiello said.

Denny's restaurants are also running a new ad campaign that asks “Who's Bailing You Out?” Chief marketing and innovation officer Mark Chmiel said its integrated effort is based on concerns noted in market research that began in late summer when the company found new products with prices like $5.99 were too high.

“As we did research, it wasn't just about value, like Rolex versus Timex... consumers said to us, ‘Someone helped bail them out, but who will help us?'” Chmiel said. “We were amazed at the real animosity that consumers had with this bailout and the government.”

In response, Denny's rolled out an ad campaign to promote its $4 Weekday Express Slam in early October, targeting “Main Street” using imagery of Wall Street. The company kicked off an effort with media outreach led by Hill & Knowlton/Samcor on October 15.

Chmiel said the economy will continue to be a key messaging point through 2009, and that it is planning a national PR event for later this year to promote its Grand Slamwich.

“We wanted to build a major event around it,” Chmiel said. “We're reacting to a difficult marketplace; 40% of restaurant-goers are saying that they are eating out less in the last six months, and we're responding to that by lowering prices and offering them some value.”

A recent study from Booz & Co. seems to support the companies' responses. The survey examined 1,000 households' spending habits in the last six months and found that 43% were eating out less and 38% more are buying sale items.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Kmart had discontinued its layaway program in 2006. That is incorrect. Kmart has offered layaway for 40 years. In 2006, however, it stopped using PR and advertising to promote the program. It is now bringing back efforts to market its layaway. We regret the error.

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