What Recession? Businesses Market Clever Ad Campaigns to Boost Spending

Companies are doing whatever (and we mean whatever) to generate business.

ByABC News
February 10, 2009, 2:16 PM

May 15, 2009 — -- Americans may not feel like spending money on vacations, but advertisers are targeting them anyway, developing clever ads to lure business back to cities and airlines that have been smarting from the pinch of the recession.

In its latest creative move to attract travelers back to Las Vegas, Nev., which is among the major U.S. cities hit hardest by the recession, the city's tourism board has released a new ad confronting rumors that Las Vegas is deserted.

And Air New Zealand was willing to bare all if it meant enticing more consumers to buy tickets on its planes. The airline developed an ad that depicts the flight attendants dressed in nothing but body paint to promote just how serious they are about their no-hidden-fees policy.

"It's a fact that people have closed their pocketbooks," said Steve Hall, the editor of the marketing industry blog Adrants.com. "They're saving and listening to economic advisers who are saying do this and not that, and yet there are companies out there whose sole existence depends on people opening up their wallet, taking money out and giving it to them."

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The desperation to stay out of the red has forced many companies to do whatever it takes to retain their customers and possibly attract new business, Hall said.

ABCNews.com took a closer look at some of the most original ways advertisers and companies are turning to desperate measures to promote their products -- and encourage consumer spending -- during the recession.

Daily coffee may be the last place caffeine addicts want to cut corners, but high-end coffee chain Starbucks is quickly learning that even its most loyal customers are cringing at the thought of spending a lot for a cup of joe.

As a result, Starbucks has begun to offer a value menu of its own -- $3.95 will get you a coffee and a breakfast pastry or sandwich. Industry experts were left to wonder just how desperate Starbucks must be when it starts competing with McDonald's speciality coffees for business, now available in the coffee bars located in McDonald's restaurants, called McCafes.

Seeing Starbucks adapt its highbrow image to one that boasts value and addresses cost savings is out of line with the company's brand image, said Griner, who suggests this may be the most desperate move a company can make in a wavering economy.

"Starbucks is in a tight spot," said Griner. "When the economy was good, they spent years telling people they're a luxury item, but suddenly they're saying they're cheap and affordable. You can't be both."

Hall agreed: "There is some desperation on the part of Starbucks."

"McDonald's has always sold cheap stuff," Hall said. "McDonald's and Starbucks mean two entirely different things."

Further capitalizing on the public's want for all things cheap, McCafe will be a major sponsor of New York's Fashion Week. While fashionistas such as Vogue's Anna Wintour and the Olsen twins are routinely seen clutching their Starbucks cups, McDonald's is hoping to take over where Starbucks has previously been the item du jour.

Fast-food chain Burger King's "Whopper Sacrifice" campaign sought to save both its customers and the company a chunk of change at a time when every cent counts.

Burger King developed an application on the popular social networking site Facebook offering customers a coupon for a free Whopper if they de-friended 10 of their contacts.

The application has since been removed from Facebook because of privacy concerns, but Griner said the Burger King experiment drove home an important economic lesson. Penny-pinching customers were able to earn free food and the company did not break the bank with the campaign.

"This is somewhat of a economical message that you don't have to spend millions and millions on one really nice ad when you can create a lot of buzz by creating something that is smart and carries itself," he said.

Hyundai's latest campaign offers what would have once been unimaginable: Buy a car and enjoy it until you lose your job. Then the dealership will take it back.

"This is classic auto manufacturer desperation," said Hall. "This is unprecedented. We're seeing zero percent financing and huge discounts."

Griner said that while it's certainly a dramatic gesture, Hyundai is smart to address a real and noticeable public trend.

"If one thing is clear it's that everyone is seeing job loss and Hyundai tied their campaign to that in a way that wasn't predatory or disgusting and is actually kind of nice," he said.

"There's something charming about this approach."

It's not just Hyundai trying to lure customers into its dealerships. Dodge dealerships across the nation have reportedly offered two-for-one sales, by which they will sell you a second car for as little as $1.

"It's dramatic and noticeable and a real conversation starter, but it's still within their brand image of being affordable," said Griner.

This is just another way to get creative -- or some say desperate -- to sell cars.

Spirit Airlines Puts Beer Ads on Flight Attendants' Aprons

It may seem like advertisements already take up every inch of free space, but Spirit Airlines has found yet another spot to place company logos and increase profit as the airline industry struggles to survive.

The airline has put Bud Light logos on its employees' aprons, upsetting flight attendants who argue that they are being treated like "walking billboards."

"I think you're going to see more and more brand affiliation and brand alliance anywhere you're selling space," said Griner. "Especially for discount airlines."

"It's something people have been complaining about for years -- that advertisements are everywhere -- but the economic trends will give airlines even more reason to put product placement pretty much anywhere they physically can."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.