Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Soft & Gentle

Last month I attended an American Advertising District 6 conference that featured the agency and campaign for the state of Michigan. A soft, inviting, gentle approach that has paid dividends. Others are getting into the act.

Check out this from the Wall Street Journal:

Marketers Take a Softer Tack to Reach Uneasy Consumers

The roller-coaster stock market and plunging housing prices have left many consumers afraid. In response, marketers are adopting a softer approach to peddling their wares, playing up comforting images in their ads and focusing on family and the warmth and safety of home.

Some marketers are even reviving old advertising to remind consumers of happier times.

General Mills

Scenes from a TV ad in Pillsbury's 'Home Is Calling' campaign, an example of the way many marketers have started playing up comforting images.

On Monday, Pillsbury, a unit of General Mills, launched a brand campaign about the pleasures of staying in. Dubbed "Home Is Calling," the campaign includes television, print, online and other ads. They feature a variety of characters -- a businessman, a young boy in a library and a woman at a train station -- who click their heels, envisioning a way to get home and eat with their friends and loved ones.

"The economy is so frightening," says Juliana Chugg, president of Pillsbury. "This campaign is an opportunity for us to represent hope in a time when people are feeling scared. To be able to connect home and values like safety, security, warmth and love at home really resonates."

Pillsbury's 'Home Is Calling' Ad


Amid wide-spread economic woes, marketers are ratcheting up images of family and the warmth and safety of home. See an example, in Pillsbury's new Crescent Roll ad. Video courtesy of General Mills. (Nov. 3)

While marketers in areas such as autos and retailing are cutting back ad spending, Pillsbury is increasing its ad budget by double-digits this year and expects to increase spending next year as well, says Ms. Chugg. For its latest campaign, the baked-goods brand speeded up its usual testing process and launched the campaign earlier than planned.

It's a tug-on-the-heartstrings playbook Madison Avenue has used before, most notably after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In times of trouble people want things that are familiar, even in advertising, says William Charnock, co-head of strategic planning at WPP Group's JWT agency, which recently revived a well-known jingle for Johnson & Johnson's Band-Aid brand.

Faith Popcorn, chief executive of marketing firm BrainReserve, says "people are looking for warm, cozy places to curl up in" in the current economic climate. "We are in a period of shock right now, and we are looking for respite and revival and restoration."

Marketers ranging from credit-card company MasterCard, to furniture retailer Ikea to consumer brands such as Unilever's RagĂș pasta sauce are getting in on the act as well.

MasterCard recently ran a spot focusing on hugs, smiles and laughter as a family gathers on a trip. Ikea's latest tagline, "Home is the Most Important Place in the World," came out of the realization that the mortgage crisis was changing the way consumers shopped at Ikea. "We felt the emphasis of home was about the value of being home than what was inside the house," says an Ikea spokeswoman.

RagĂș recently started running print and online ads that emphasize family connections and value. It is thinking of expanding them into TV, says Darren Kapelus, managing director at WPP's Ogilvy in New York. "The perfect meal when your family is growing and the economy is shrinking," says one ad, which depicts a pregnant mom with a young child.

Meanwhile, companies such as J&J and Toys "R" Us are reviving old standbys. J&J's "I am stuck on Band-Aid brand cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" jingle is airing on TV, and so is the familiar "I don't want to grow up, I'm a Toys 'R' Us kid."

"It brings people back to a happier, warmer place, back to when they were kids," says Greg Ahearn, senior vice president of marketing at Toys "R" Us, who says he believes that the combination of nostalgia and low prices will help bolster holiday sales.

Write to Stephanie Kang at stephanie.kang@wsj.com

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