Experts, Churchill, and Ad Space


Experts, Churchill, and Ad Space

Author Erik Larson writes historical nonfiction based on tremendous in-depth research about his subject. He quotes sources and diarists and blends two or more complex tales to bring us terrific books like “The Devil in White City”, “Thunderstruck”, “The Garden of Beasts” and now, his latest, “The Splendid and the Vile.”

Set in wartime London and Berlin, “The Splendid and the Vile” looks at the blitz from two points of view, that of Winston Churchill and of Hitler and his Luftwaffe chief, Hermann Goring. While waiting for the U.S. to enter the war, the British endure incredible hardships. For Churchill, there is no question that they will never surrender. For Hitler and Goring, it is disbelief that England can withstand the incredible bombing without capitulating. They ask each other, time and again, how Churchill cannot be suing for peace as they turn up the pressure again and again. And, therein, turns the tale.

Rather than cower in the relative safety of his reinforced war rooms, Churchill goes out onto the rooftops or into the neighborhoods to see just what is happening to his city. His advisors plead with him to stay inside, but he is relentless. One evening, (the Germans always bomb at night) he is sitting on the roof when an aid asks him to move. 

Seems he was sitting on a chimney and causing the smoke to flood some of the rooms downstairs at Number 10. (Larson brings some comic relief to the horror.)

The descriptions of what the English went through, not only in London but in Liverpool, Birmingham, and of course Coventry, are not easy to read. But their courage and the courage of their leader is incredible. Churchill knew that America must enter the fray, and he had to hold out until then. Finally, in mid-1941, the lend lease act is signed, Hitler decides to attack Russia and … I won’t give away the ending. You must read this book.

It is difficult not to compare England during the blitz with what we are suffering today with the pandemic. For more than two years the Germans were without pity, dropping tons and tons of bombs daily on a basically defenseless people. Sure, they had air raid sirens, and went to shelters, but they also continued their daily lives, with stores remaining open, trains running, shopping, going to parties, and clubs, living their lives as best they could.

By the way, the shelters didn’t always work and the bombs often drilled through to the underground where hundreds were waiting, and hundreds were killed. The dead were often stacked in the streets waiting to be collected. Sometimes the bombs didn’t explode and first responders would go in and try to disarm them. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t.

Those inhabitants didn’t look to their government for protection, they looked to it for leadership. And they got it. The leaders made mistakes, but they adjusted. Churchill knew things could go wrong and was able to change course, or pivot, as needed to meet each challenge. He surrounded himself, not with sycophants, but with those, regardless of party, who could do the job, and thus he saved the world from darkness.

As I look around me sitting in Los Angeles today, I can’t help but wonder – if only…

“I thought about the recession and decided not to participate.”

That quote by Sam Walton pretty much sums up an article last year in Forbes Magazine where author Brad Adgate stressed that the last thing you want to do in an economic downturn is cut back on advertising. Its main points are:

• The “noise level” in a brand’s product category can drop when competitors cut back on their ad spend. It also allows for advertisers to re-position a brand or introduce a new product.

• Brands can project to consumers the image of corporate stability during challenging times.

• The cost of advertising drops during recessions. The lower rates create a “buyer’s market” for brands. Studies have shown that direct mail advertising, which can provide greater short-term sales growth, increases during a recession.

• When marketers cut back on their ad spending, the brand loses its “share of mind” with consumers, with the potential of losing current – and possibly future – sales. An increase in “share of voice” typically leads to an increase in “share of market.” An increase in market share results in an increase in profits.

The article commented on four areas of the economy that flourished during recessions:

Dry Cereal – Post, the cereal leader, cut back its advertising during the great depressions, Kellogg’s doubled its ad spend.
Kellogg’s profits grew by 30 percent. It outsold Post and remained the industry leader for decades.

Imported Automobiles – The energy crisis got people thinking about gas mileage. Toyota was second to Honda in fuel efficiency, but when others cut, they resisted dropping their ad budget. By 1976, the Japanese car company surpassed Volkswagen as the top imported carmaker in the U.S.

Fast Food: In the 1990-91 recession, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell took advantage of McDonald’s decision to drop its advertising and promotion budget. As a result, Pizza Hut increased sales by 61 percent, Taco Bell sales grew by 40 percent and McDonald’s sales declined by 28 percent.

Technology: Amazon sales grew by 28 percent in 2009 during the “great recession.” The tech company continued to innovate with new products during the slumping economy, most notably with new Kindle products which helped to grow market share. As a result, in the minds of consumers, Amazon became an innovative company by introducing a lower cost alternative to cash-strapped consumers.

To quote the article’s author:

“Although the natural inclination for advertisers is to cut back on advertising during a recession, those brands that maintain their ad budget and/or change their messaging can get a long-lasting boost in sales and market share.”

My prediction is that over the summer the parking industry will come roaring back. Just like a switch turned on. People will be traveling, offices will reopen, and the vast majority of Americans will want to get back out there after three long months of social distancing. 

Remember, there are 330 million of us, and less than a million are involved in all the craziness we have seen at the beginning of June. The rest of us are bored out of our minds and want to get on with our lives. The government, a virus, or the odd riot will not stop us.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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