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Don't skimp on ad budgets

Grill Column

Donna Myers -- Casual Living, February 1, 2009

You don't have to spend a fortune to maintain your brand awareness.

Today's glum economy and reduced consumer spending has everyone thinking about cost cutting. Retailers and manufacturers are turning a sharp eye to expenditures in an effort to shore up the bottom line, but cutting advertising expenses can yield short-term gains and long-term trouble.

“The first reaction is to cut, cut, cut, and advertising is one of the first things to go,” said Wharton Marketing professor Peter Fader, “As companies slash advertising in a downturn, they leave empty space in consumers' minds for aggressive marketers to make strong inroads. Today's economy provides an unusual opportunity to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd.”

So with peak barbecue selling season fast approaching, if you've drastically reduced your advertising and promotion budgets, it may be time to reconsider. After months of doom and gloom about a recession dominating the media, consumers are ready for some positive, upbeat messages, and the barbecue industry is fortunate to have just such messages to convey to customers.

The No. 1 reason people barbecue has always been taste. Food cooked outdoors simply tastes better. But the industry's second powerful message is barbecuing is fun. More than just an alternative way to prepare a meal, barbecuing involves spending quality, relaxing time with family and friends. Everyone loves the camaraderie engendered by a festive barbecue occasion.

Research shows companies that consistently advertise even during recessions perform better in the long run, reports Knowledge@Wharton. A McGraw-Hill research study looking at 600 companies from 1980 to 1985 found those businesses that chose to maintain or raise their level of advertising expenditures during the 1981-82 recession had significantly higher sales even after the economy recovered. Specifically, companies that advertised aggressively during the recession had sales 256% higher than those that did not.

Whether you are a grill or accessory manufacturer who needs to reach trade customers via industry publications, as well as consumers to drive traffic to your retail customers' stores, or a barbecue retailer needing to attract consumers to your store, consider this: Because of the weak economy, the media will be offering terrific buys regardless if your target audience is national or local, TV viewers or radio listeners, magazine or newspaper readers. If you traditionally looked for remnant space buys, you'll probably find regular rates are now equally attractive.

And what effective messages should you convey?

  • Barbecues are fun, so cook out more often. 

  • Today's feature-laden grills and accessories will make your outdoor cooking more convenient and more foolproof.

  • If you're cutting costs by dining out (in restaurants) less often, dining out in your own backyard is a great alternative.

  • Barbecuing and smoking can turn even economical cuts of meat into gourmet fare fit for entertaining.

  • Today's stylish grills and related amenities make an outdoor kitchen as versatile as an indoor kitchen. They're a good investment, with outdoor cooking now popular year-round, and they'll still be there when the economy rebounds.

  • Your brand or store has been around for a long time and will be there reliably when consumers need service.

  • "We offer a great value" is appealing now. Justify price by emphasizing benefits someone gets from dollars spent.

  • Barbecuing or buying a new grill or accessories, will bring you comfort when life is currently so stressful.

And there will be many positive proprietary messages about your product or store to add to the mix.

“If companies cut deeply into advertising and communications in a down period, the cost to regain share of voice in the market once the economy turns around may cost four or five times as much as the cuts saved,” said David Sable, CEO of brand-building agency Wunderman, part of the global marketing firm WPP Group.

You don't have to spend a fortune to maintain your brand awareness. Remember this is a good time to explore lower cost but effective marketing techniques such as banners, bill stuffers, direct mail, online blogs or banners, and other digital media. The important thing is to keep your name in front of your target audience or it may be your competitors' names and messages that will be on the tips of their tongues!

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