Gini Dietrich

What Kellogg’s and the Great Depression Can Teach You About PR and Marketing

By: Gini Dietrich | November 17, 2009 | 

Snap Crackle PopA few weeks ago, my friend Steve McKee wrote in his BusinessWeek column about companies doing their growth a big disservice in a down economy when they cut their advertising and PR budgets. You can read the article and comments here.

Then, when I asked each of you what you’d like to read about in future blog posts, my friend John emailed me and asked, “Why is it that during tough economic times, most companies reduce marketing budgets? If marketing is of real value to a company and if marketing works for that company, wouldn’t you increase spending in tough times?”

This brings me to one of my favorite case studies: How Kellogg won the cereal wars of the Great Depression. Forbes, The New Yorker, and several other national media highlighted this story earlier this year, when it looked like the economy wasn’t likely to get better anytime soon. Following is an expert I refer to a lot when people ask me the same question John asked.

In the late nineteen-twenties, two companies—Kellogg and Post—dominated the market for packaged cereal. It was still a relatively new market: Ready-to-eat cereal had been around for decades, but Americans didn’t see it as a real alternative to oatmeal or cream of wheat until the twenties. So, when the Depression hit, no one knew what would happen to consumer demand. Post did the predictable thing: It reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. (Snap, Crackle, and Pop first appeared in the 1930s.) By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost 30 percent and it had become what it remains today: The industry’s dominant player.

With social media you can now heavily push your brand, your company, your service, or your product at half the cost of traditional methods. If you listen, build your communities, let your brand ambassadors spread the word, and provide value, your business will come out of the Great Recession as a dominant player, no matter your size.

So my question for you is: If you decrease your spending and no one knows you’re still in business, which creates a drop in revenue and profits, doesn’t it make sense to spend money and time on the new forms of marketing, advertising, and PR?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She also has run, built, and grown an agency for the past 14 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.