The American economy is back or so some of the country’s biggest advertisers are saying in new campaigns.
It may be a sign that the recession is ending, or it may be a sign that consumers are sick of hearing about it.
While economists and investors study housing starts and gross domestic product predictions to measure economic vibrancy, General Electric, Bank of America and other companies are using commercials to proclaim that America’s future is bright. And that may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“These are big companies demonstrating market leadership that will help shape public opinion,” Robert Scalea, chief executive for North America at the Brand Union, a branding firm that is part of the WPP Group, said. “Marketing is always a reflection of societal values, and many times, for smarter marketers, is a driver of them.”
The ads do not equivocate. “The American renewal is happening right now,” GE spots say. Bank of America closes its commercial with: “America. Growing stronger every day.” Ads for Levi’s quote Walt Whitman’s “America” and “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”
Marketers, by definition, sell things, but they are sometimes able to capture the mood of a country as they do so. Last fall, when stalwart firms like Lehman Brothers disappeared almost overnight, companies emphasized their trustworthiness and lengthy histories in commercials. In the spring, when it seemed as if the recession would go on endlessly, companies compared this era to the Depression and discussed how they had weathered that period. Now, marketers’ emphasis on American pride and an economic comeback suggests that the air is starting to crackle with optimism.
On a more functional level, once banks like Bank of America begin lending again, corporations like General Electric begin hiring again and everyone begins advertising again, the economic recovery will have some fuel.
But a message that economic woes are over may seem insensitive to some viewers. “I was looking at the GE one, and my first reaction was, everyone in there is smiling and happy, and it’s a very bright scene,” said Timothy B. Heath, a marketing professor at the business school of Miami University of Ohio. “It seemed almost too cheery, given where a lot of people are right now.”
Bank of America’s spot begins with lights turning on all over the country in quick succession – at museums, at stadiums, in small towns. “Every business day, Bank of America lends nearly $3 billion,” the narrator says, “in every corner of the economy.” It is the first spot in an estimated $40 million campaign that will run through early next year and include more television commercials, along with print and online ads.
The spot was completed this summer, but Bank of America held it until about two weeks ago.
“We really waited for the proper time to put it on air, and we believe the time is now,” said Meredith Verdone, brand, advertising and research executive for Bank of America. She checked with the bank’s economists, and public policy and public relations executives to make sure they thought a recovery was beginning, she said.