The glass is half full

recession cartoon

I know it may surprise some of you to learn that The Genius is actually a relentless optimist. Critical as I may sometimes be, the truth is I have a natural tendency to look for the positive in people and situations. It’s just not as entertaining to write about the nice stuff. Sorry.

Given my optimistic nature, it’s been rather annoying to watch tv, read magazines, or even make small talk with my neighbors lately—because everyone has their panties jammed waaaaaaay up their @#$*! as a result of “the current economic situation” [insert melodramatic music here].

Listen, people. I understand that the sh*t has hit the proverbial fan. I’m not denying the facts. We all had one big over-indulgent party together, and now we’re suffering from one MASSIVE hangover. But it doesn’t do us any good to dwell, now does it? Does complaining all day about how much your head aches make things better?

Genius that I am, I’m fairly certain that “this too shall pass” and in the meantime, we best not PANIC. Which is why I took the time out of my very busy and extremely important schedule to throw together a little bit of thinking aptly titled “The Glass is Half Full.” Lest you dismiss it as yet another martini-induced rant, I assure you, it’s got real data. Naturally, it has a few curse words. And most definitely, it offers some fresh perspective.

I hope you’ll enjoy it, and… if you’re so inclined, perhaps you’ll even pass it on. Because just about everyone could use a bit o’ good news.

Recession? What recession?

Recently, my pal @MarketerBlog drew my attention to this post which suggested that brands that INCREASE their marketing/ad spending during a recession stand to gain a SUBSTANTIAL competitive advantage.

Skeptical? Of course you are. Still—take a moment to consider these tasty data points (from Innovating through a Recession by Professor Andrew J. Razeghi at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University):

  • Increasing advertising spending during economic expansion often yields no improvement in market share, because 80% of your competitors are also increasing their spending.
  • Businesses that maintained or increased their advertising spend during recession averaged higher sales growth during the following three years
  • Within four years, the businesses that maintained or increased their advertising spend during that recession experienced a 256% growth in sales over those that had cut back on advertising
  • A decade later, aggressive recession advertisers increased market share 2½ times the average for all businesses during the post-recession

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s your basic, “Buy Low, Sell High!” strategy. Nothing new here. The problem aint that we don’t know better… it’s that we’re too busy behaving like lemmings to do what we know is right.

Hell, even the guys at The Economist are preaching a “spend more on advertising” strategy. Granted, they might just be hurting for sales… Still, they make some pretty compelling points in this well-designed, cleverly-executed pitch (worth a read, I promise):

My take-away message? Getting through this ‘recession thang’ is a bit like driving through a blizzard. When you hit a patch of ice, instinctively, you want to turn your wheels AWAY from the direction of the skid. DON’T. Even though your knuckles are turning white and every cell in your body is screaming “TURN AWAY!!!!! AWAYYYYYYY, YOU IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Turn IN to the skid—or kiss your sweet, scared ass goodbye.

The Misadventures of Jane the Marketer: A Cautionary Tale

Note: Names and identities have been changed to protect the innocent.

My friend “Jane,” a whip-smart marketing professional with a sharp eye and devilishly good looks, called me over the weekend in a state of near-homicidal rage over the fact that her boss had “once again climbed 10 feet up my ass” (her ass, not mine, of course). Naturally, I probed her for details (get your mind out of the gutter), and after a 5-minute swear-fest that would make a sailor blush, she managed to divulge the following:

Jane had joined the marketing team of this very-hip-and-innovative-Web-2.0 company just a few short months ago. Since then, she’s worked till her fingers bled, breathing life into their lead-generation engine, turning wimp-a-rific brand messages into clever, compelling gems, and single-handedly orchestrating a multi-channel marketing program so precise and well-timed that it could make a Swiss watch turn green with envy. What’s more, Jane was creative and frugal in her efforts—spending a teeny-weeny fraction of what her dim-witted boss spends on hair plugs and hookers each month—and her impressive arsenal of non-traditional marketing tricks paid off:

– 385% increase in registered users
– 6-fold increase in website traffic, yielding 3x the number of page views
– 200% Conversation Index
– 20% jump in Technorati “Authority” rank

And all of the above results were achieved within the first 45 days of the program. Not too shabby.

And that’s precisely when Jane’s boss, anti-genius that he is, woke up one morning (probably feeling particularly anxious about his receding hairline and his growing need for ever more Viagra to “get the job done”—but I’m just guessing), and marched into her office proclaiming that “user acquisition costs were too high” and therefore, her budget would be reduced by 70%, effective immediately.

the Anti-Genius himself

Yes, I’m serious.

Yes, he’s an idiot.

Obviously, this course of action put a kink in Jane’s ability to continue producing the kind of dramatic results previously described. And when user acquisition rates took a sharp dive south, just weeks after Anti-Genius put the kibosh on the only successful marketing program his fledgling company had ever seen, he marched back into her office, denounced the possibility that the lack of actual marketing activity might be responsible for the lack of new business, and proclaimed, “The problem, Jane, is that the messaging is all wrong.”


This logic is the metaphoric equivalent of training daily and vigorously for the Olympics (and watching your level of fitness and athletic skill improve accordingly), then suddenly becoming a complete couch potato. After a month of eating bon-bons and watching soap operas, you realize that you’re not in the Olympics as planned… and conclude that if only you’d worn a red shirt instead of a blue one, that gold medal would have been yours!


This reminds me of the old adage that I continually try to impress upon my children: You reap what you sow.

Don’t think that you can plant sunflowers and grow roses. If you plant sunflowers, you’ll get sunflowers.
And perhaps, more importantly, don’t expect anything to grow if you don’t care for and nurture the garden itself—constantly. Water, sunlight, food, love. In Jane’s case, the “garden” required cash, creativity, and a whole lot of “measure, rinse, and [improve or] repeat”—all of which she was 150% committed to. Until the Anti-Genius (distant cousin of the Anti-Christ) decided to get involved.

My message to Jane?

First, find yourself a new boss, preferably one that isn’t such an idiot.

Second, never send a CEO to do a smart marketer’s job.