Consumers split on effectiveness of economy in ads

NEW YORK The economy has played a starring role in many recent restaurant advertisements, but a new poll finds that marketers should be careful in how they call attention to the recession in their campaigns.

In a survey of 2,186 people by Adweek and Harris Interactive released Wednesday, consumers were split in their attitudes of marketing that mentions the economic turmoil. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said restaurant brands that referred to the recession in ads were being manipulative, while 23 percent said such advertisements make the brand seem more realistic. At the same time, 12 percent said recession-theme advertisements are depressing and make them less likely to patronize a restaurant.

However, nearly two in five respondents, or 39 percent, said they have no opinion about advertisements that mention the recession.

Since the financial crisis really got underway last fall, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers touched off panic in the financial markets that trickled down through the auto and consumer credit industries all the way to foodservice, restaurants have used tongue-in-cheek references to the economy in marketing materials.

Promotions centered around “bailouts” and “stimulus packages” popped up everywhere, a Los Angeles speakeasy, the Edison, started serving a half-empty cocktail called “Your 401(k),” and one restaurateur in South Florida, a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s franchisee named Mike Jacobs, started a deal called “Pink Slip Paybacks,” where recently laid-off customers could get a free meal by showing a letter of termination.

Back in March, Domino’s Pizza launched its “Big Taste Bailout,” delivering three or more one-topping medium pizzas or oven-baked sandwiches for $5 each. In those commercials, the recession could not have been more overt, as chief executive David Brandon filmed scenes in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street in New York to evoke mock outrage at banking bailouts and perceived excesses in the federal stimulus package.

And in April, the Colorado Restaurant Association launched a marketing campaign telling consumers to “Fork the Recession” by visiting neighborhood restaurants to help their local economies. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., aggressively supported the $170,000 ad campaign, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Different demographic groups have differing opinions about recession-theme advertisements, the Adweek/Harris poll found. Men were more likely than women to say the ads made brands seem more manipulative, at a rate of 29 percent compared with 25 percent. Women were much more likely than men, by a rate of 27 percent versus 18 percent, to perceive such brands as more realistic.

Survey respondents who were younger or had some college education were more likely to think such advertisements made brands seem more realistic and more manipulative than consumers who are older or have less education.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected] [3].