Today's consumers will be sold on marketing restraint

Marketers face a slew of challenges today, from diminishing capital to a more regulation-happy government. But maybe the most prominent issue on everyone's mind is the on-edge consumer - the one who has snapped shut the family wallet and packed it in to ride out a recession being compared to the Great Depression.

Marketers face a slew of challenges today, from diminishing capital to a more regulation-happy government. But maybe the most prominent issue on everyone's mind is the on-edge consumer – the one who has snapped shut the family wallet and packed it in to ride out a recession being compared to the Great Depression.

It's a markedly different mood than in the post-9/11 economic downturn, when then-President George W. Bush urged Americans to continue to vacation and shop. Instead, today's emphasis is on moderate consumption, be it use of your credit card or the thermostat. While the government is certainly spending big on banks and a host of programs, it too is urging a degree of restraint. President Barack Obama underscored his inauguration speech with a tone of measurement, saying, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.” And it seems that marketers are smartly catching on to the country's mood.

Companies like MasterCard have said they toned down communications to focus on value, while Absolut is running a “Moderation Is Key” campaign in which it urges consumers not to go overboard on the booze. And the TV is awash in commercials, for products ranging from phones to dish soap, touting ways to tweak spending to keep budgets in line with these modest, understated times. Undoubtedly, many of the efforts were created prior to the financial meltdown, but it demonstrates the necessity to keep marketing on par with consumers' mood.

Communication that misses this overlying theme will strike the wrong chord with today's consumer. That's not to say that marketing should focus on the dour and dreary. People need a reason to smile, to break out from the cycle of another “bad news day,” as noted in this week's Media Analysis. Creative, moderate campaigns will thrive this year.

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