Spam in limelight in advertising shift


POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NEW YORK » The frill is gone.

Companies are moving their ad dollars from gourmet or frivolous items to pantry staples and traditionally ho-hum household goods. Spam, Hamburger Helper, Kool-Aid drink mix and that golden oldie butter are advertising stars these days.

The new advertising is aimed not only at cashing in on the new frugality of recession-wary consumers, but also fending off a flight to cheaper store brands. It also can maintain their share of a shrinking consumer-spending pie.

In some cases the ads are paying off with higher sales.

“;In this 'Great Recession' economy, companies are not simply changing the messages they place in their ads, they are doing something much more substantial,”; said Marc Fleishhacker, senior partner and managing director of Ogilvy Consulting's North America practice. “;They are fundamentally changing the products they promote.”;

Land O'Lakes Inc., the maker of deli cheese, eggs and butter, launched its first TV campaign for its basic butter product in 10 years. Hormel Foods Corp., which increased its spending on ads for Spam last year, began its first national ad campaign for Dinty Moore stew last fall. Sales for Spam and Dinty Moore stew rose by double-digit percentage increases in the quarter that ended Jan. 25.

Spam is popular in Hawaii, where the state boasts the highest per capita Spam consumption in the U.S. That fact is emblazoned on the brand's Web site, which also notes that Spam musubi is the “;favorite way to enjoy Spam in the Aloha State.”;

Home Depot, the nation's largest home improvement retailer, is pushing items like potting soil and hand tools under a new tag line, “;More saving. More doing.”; Last spring, in contrast, Home Depot focused on how to create dream kitchens.

Many ads now also have a soothing feel to allay consumer anxiety. Allstate Insurance Co.'s “;Back to Basics”; commercial looks back to the Great Depression and other tough periods when people learned to enjoy small things like a home-cooked meal. A General Motors Corp. ad, which has a patriotic theme, promises to make payments if customers lose their jobs.

The shift to highlight more everyday products follows more than a decade of companies pushing $30,000 kitchen renovations, $15-per-pound cheeses and flashy jewelry as rising home values and growing stock portfolios made consumers feel flush.

No more. The recession has brought on an abrupt change in shoppers' mindsets. Home prices have fallen 29 percent from their summer 2006 peak, according to Standard & Poor's. Major stock indexes are off more than 40 percent from their October 2007 levels. Unemployment hit 8.5 percent last month, the highest rate in a quarter-century, and is expected to reach 10 percent by the end of the year.

That's translated to a spending malaise, even in food purchases. Consumer spending not adjusted for inflation grew at the slowest rate since 1961 last year and is expected to remain sluggish for the rest of the year. In the fourth quarter of 2008, spending on food and nonalcoholic beverages fell 3.2 percent, according to Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody's Economy.com.