Shop Your Way Out Of Recession Blues, Mall Of America Proclaims

October 28, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is another post in an ongoing series of guest submissions to Idea Peepshow. This one comes from Phil Tippin, a graphic designer and writer in Minneapolis.

If you’ve got an idea for a guest post, we’d love to hear from you. Shoot a note to: info(at)fasthorseinc.com.

By Phil Tippin

When America’s economy hit the skids after the Sept. 11 attacks, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told CNN, “We need to respond quickly so people regain confidence and consider it their patriotic duty to go shopping – ”

He was right. Our system works when people spend money. But back then, just as now, we learned that suggesting that people spend money is tricky business in a bad economy. Bush was widely lampooned for his statement, suggesting that the notion was too simplistic, and the governor was out of touch with the situation.

It is into these waters that the Mall of America wades with their new ad campaign.

Mall of America AdThe first ad that caught my attention was a bus side. The ad says, “The economy looks better in a new outfit.”

Okay, yes. I do get a little spring in my step when I get some cool new clothes, but that’s not what first occurred to me when I saw the bus side. My first impression was “Let them eat cake.” The image doesn’t feature someone in business clothes, work clothes or anything resembling a roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitude. Instead, the model, dressed decidedly upscale, strikes a pose that seems aloof. Curious, and feeling relatively certain that the Mall of America doesn’t intend to offend me with their ads, I gave them a call. I spoke with Jeff Hoke, the mall’s director of marketing, to find out the thinking behind the campaign.

“As we looked ahead at the 2009 season, everything was so somber,” said Hoke. “Our slogan is ‘There’s a place for fun in your life’ and we like to lighten things up whenever we can. The goal for the campaign was to be light, tongue-in-cheek and funny – we like to poke fun at ourselves. As we approached this year’s campaign we got news of a double-dip recession but we decided to roll with it anyway. The campaign gives us all an excuse to laugh.”

Is it working? “The response has been very good,” he says.

This year’s MOA offering, seen on 25 billboards and 300 buses, was the work of the Preston Kelly Agency. Preston Kelly also did last year’s campaign, introducing the overall style that informs this year’s ads and also included one that addressed the economy (“The road to economic recovery may be long. You need shoes.”).

Mall of America ad

As my attention had been brought to the campaign by the “New Outfit” ad, Hoke was quick to point out that that seen in its entirety, the campaign’s scope is broad, including an ad featuring a male model in business attire applying for a job and another that addresses the issue of thrift.

Still, I can’t help but wince a little when I see the bus side that proclaims, “The housing recovery should start with your closet.” The ad is certainly another clever cheer for shopping, but dances with the sticky subject of home foreclosures to get its point across. For someone reading that who had lost their home, it can only be a bitter reminder. And that’s the challenge of marketing in this economy: Some aspects of the recession are harder to laugh at than others.

Risky? Yes, and it definitely got my attention. Whether funny or provocative, tongue-in-cheek or troubling, the MOA campaign is a definite part of the zeitgeist that is the world we live in now. If shopping is our patriotic duty, then some simply can’t afford to be patriots. For the rest, reaching the reluctant consumer is a tricky and sensitive business.