Desperation marketing

In tough times, every brand wants to be a bargain brand

Buy one, get one free: it’s an offer generally confined to the grocery store. Some Dodge dealers in Canada, the U.S. and Britain, however, are offering two Chargers, Rams and Avengers for the price of one. Restaurants, meanwhile, are advertising “sit-down food at take-out prices,” and fast-food chains like Wendy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts are offering 99-cent sandwiches and lattes. Even luxury brand, Starbucks is in on the marketing game, trying to shed its highbrow image by offering instant coffee at a buck a cup, and $3.95 “value meals.” In today’s economic climate—where everyone wants to be seen as cheap and affordable—retailers are trying “whatever they can,” to catch the attention of consumers, says Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, a consumer research firm.

“It’s Advertising 101, adds Jay Waters, chief strategy officer for Luckie & Co., a U.S. advertising and marketing agency. “Consumers have a problem, and a brand offers a solution: In this economic environment, the consumer’s number one problem is how to stretch their dollars, and they are looking for brands that can provide a solution.” For retailers, that means positioning their brand image as a “bargain,” and offering deep discounts (read: 99-cent options).

The marketing trend is perhaps best illustrated by the increasing use of black-on-yellow advertising—“a colour combination that screams: this is as good as it’s going to get,” says Beemer. Recently, high-end Vancouver condo retailer, the Onni Group, ran full-page, black-on-yellow ads in local newspapers advertising, “VANCOUVER’S LARGEST REAL ESTATE LIQUIDATION EVENT.” Fido has also adopted the colour scheme; black-and-yellow “CLEARANCE” signs, meanwhile, hang from street-front windows at both Sears and the Bay. Last month, Loblaw’s shifted the focus to its No Name products—recently re-cast in black and yellow—by featuring them more prominently on store shelves, as well as in flyers and a new TV ad campaign. “The old tricks aren’t working,” says Beemer, noting that 38 per cent of Americans now fear they may lose their jobs. “Consumers just aren’t paying attention.”