May 2009: Volume 147

To Advertise or Not to Advertise?

Sharon Krinsky: President

In any serious economic downturn, there are always two knee-jerk reactions:

  1. Advertisers cut their ad budgets.
  2. Ad executives say they shouldn’t.

Whoís right? Well, that depends on your business. To have an intelligent advertising strategy during a recession, you need to understand that there are basically three kinds of businesses: those for whom advertising is essential, those for whom itís discretionary, or somewhere in the middle. Letís take these one at a time.

Businesses for whom advertising is essential.

For some companies, advertising is oxygen. With it, they grow. Without it, they die.

These businesses tend to be in categories that are consumer oriented and highly responsive to marketing activity, such as fast food, retail, consumer packaged goods, and automotive. Saving money by dramatically cutting advertising will do more harm than good. If your ads are working, stay the course. However, if your efforts are not showing success, you need to keep advertising but change your strategy.

Create advertising that is focused on changing customer behavior, not attitudes. Contrary to what most people think, behavior is easier to change than attitudes. Itís easier to convince you to eat a Big Mac than convince you that a Big Mac is a good thing to eat. Itís easier to convince you to go to Las Vegas than to convince you that going to Las Vegas is a wise thing to do.

Trying to change attitudes is a difficult and expensive proposition under the best of circumstances. For now, focus on giving your customer a practical reason to try you now.

Businesses for whom advertising is discretionary.

Some businesses simply arenít highly responsive to advertising: life insurance, wine, and serious technology, for example. They generally use advertising for secondary purposes like influencing investors, impressing the trade, or assuaging corporate egos.

If you are in one of these categories and revenue is starting to sag, saving advertising dollars is a good idea. If you go dark for a few months, the only one whoíll notice will be your ad agency.

Businesses that are somewhere in the middle.

Most businesses live here. Advertising is sometimes successful, sometimes essential, and sometimes unnecessary or ineffectual. It all depends on whether youíre using strategies that are appropriate for the times. During difficult times itís more important than ever to be practical, realistic, and militantly strategic in your advertising efforts.

For example, take a look at your target. Are you going after the heavy-using, high-yield customer in your category, or are you wasting time and money trying to convince a light- or nonuser to give you a try?

Examine your message. Are you giving the heavy user a good reason to change her behavior (a good deal, a service enhancement, a meaningful product differentiation), or are you expecting vague brand messages and empty promises to carry the day?

Advertising during tough economic times is not for the timid. But if you have a good reason to advertise and a clear, practical strategy, advertising can be a major asset in seeing you through.

Sharon Krinsky is President and Chief Creative Officer of Hoffman/Lewis, and is a member of the Hoffman/Lewis Board of Directors. Previously, she was Creative Director of Gearon Hoffman Advertising in Boston, MA. Before that Sharon worked in public relations and was a magazine editor. Sharon has been an instructor on creativity for the American Association of Advertising Agencies in the continuing education program for advertising professionals. She can be reached at for more information.


Featured Agency:


Heard About Town

Yelp and Local Search

If you search for a local business on Google, Yahoo, or MSN, in one of the bigger cities in the United States, chances are excellent that a Yelp page or two will appear on the first page of the search results. Yelp ranks well in the big three search engines for local categories, including things like movies, nightclubs, massages, restaurants, oil changes, and much more.

Yelp is growing faster than Citysearch. Its monthly unique visitors have more than doubled in the past year and topped 20 million in February 2009. So what exactly is Yelp? Read more.

ClickTime is the web's easiest online time and expense system. Track timesheets and expenses for 2-1000 users quickly and easily, with rich reporting and data summaries for administrators. Integrate ClickTime with popular accounting, payroll, and billing systems.

282 Second Street, 4th Floor,
San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: (415) 546-6266
email us

Why are you receiving this? has a record of you being a member of the San Francisco advertising community. If you'd like to not receive these, follow the instructions below. Thank you.
Problems reading this email? Go to

Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved