Article Image - History Shows Us Creativity Is Key During A Recession

History Shows Us Creativity Is Key During A Recession

By: Dave Hanneken
August 2020
4 min

A friend of mine was checking out at the grocery store, when his five-year-old son begged him for a “Spunow” candy bar. Before he could reply, “No, you’ll spoil your appetite,” he looked closer at this mysterious brand of candy only to realize they were only “Mounds” bars placed upside-down in the box. Through the eyes of children…

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you marvel at the world through a child’s eyes. While inadvertent, this story demonstrates the very definition of creativity. That is, seeing the world in different ways and from different angles. In this case, upside-down.


  • While America was dealing with the first recession since the early 1980s, Michael Jordan and his pals at Nike introduced us to Mars Blackman and re-introduced everyone to Bugs Bunny. The animated Looney Tunes commercial later influenced the Hollywood mega-hit, “Space Jam.” You may have heard of it.


  • Can you think of a worse time to introduce a luxury car brand? Lexus said, “That’s not stopping us,” as they greeted the world with a series of creative ads that focused on individual features – like advanced anti-lock brakes, as demonstrated by ice skaters on a frozen lake, and a high-fidelity sound system that could make it rain, even in a barren desert. This campaign broke all the rules for a new product introduction and still stands as one of the best launches ever.
  • This economic downturn ushered in even more stellar work, like the introduction of the Apple iPod. Remember the dancing silhouettes holding this foreign device, along with a never-seen-before white cord? If not for this campaign’s success, odds are quite good you’d be reading this article not on your smartphone – the precursor to the revolutionary iPhone – but on an archaic desktop computer. A Commodore 64, perhaps?


  • During this time, we also got to follow the ongoing trials of Frank and Louie, Budweiser’s hilarious swamp lizards. Recessions generally bring an uptick in alcohol sales (this current one is no exception), so Frank and Louie became cultural icons. Even today I hear people ask for a “Bud. Wise. Er.”
  • Just as we were learning that banks were too big to fail, we also learned Old Spice ads were too good to ignore. My dad wore this putrid after-shave lotion, so I never wanted to grow up to be a “man your man could smell like.” But after millions of dollars in sales (and presumably, a reformulated scent), Proctor & Gamble made like actor Isaiah Mustafa and sat on their own high horse. Ahhh, the sweet smell of edgy creative!


  • “The Most Interesting Man In The World” introduced himself in one of the most interesting ad campaigns of all time. Who thought it was a good idea to target 20-something beer drinkers with a 75-year-old guy in a tuxedo? Dos Equis beer did, that’s who. Why did this character become so popular?  Well, he did win a lifetime achievement award, twice. Mosquitos refuse to bite him purely out of respect. And he once flirted with danger, and danger got clingy.
  • So where does this leave us, five months into our current economic downturn? Of course, the jury’s still out on the quality of the creative, but from where I sit – at home, surrounded by multiple rolls of toilet paper – I am seeing some remarkable work from the likes of Progressive Insurance. The current campaign features Flo and her band of work pals trying to video conference. What a terrific way to showcase (and evolve) these characters. Who among us can’t relate to these hilarious scenarios?


  • Arby’s restaurants have dealt with the production challenges we all face by re-using an old ad simply by pixelating a sandwich that’s not for sale, and adding a new voiceover. Years ago, an old creative director of mine used to say, “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” Arby’s must have been listening.


  • I can’t talk about the creative during the current pandemic without mentioning Nike’s latest spot entitled: “You Can’t Stop Sport.”  Like many practitioners in this business, I can’t stop talking about it. You’ve likely seen it, the spot which uses existing clips, masterfully edited with split-screen footage of soccer players, swimmers, sprinters and more. This campaign reminds me of why I went into the business in the first place. Nike doesn’t know what it means to “play it safe.” Bravo!

Hall of Fame animator Chuck Jones once discussed the challenges he faced when developing those classic Looney Tunes cartoons with Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. In hindsight, he said it was a blessing that Warner Bros. gave his animation division mere breadcrumbs, while the film studio got the big budgets. Having a pittance to work with forced his team of writers and animators to be more creative. To let the ideas be front-and-center. The same should hold true to advertisers today. Are you somewhat compromised in how you produce your campaigns? Good. Here’s your chance to show the world how good you are, and to let creativity shine through.

Now more than ever, consumers are craving entertainment, inspiration and normalcy – not just another “in these troubling times” stock video montage. As advertisers, it is up to us to be creative within these new constraints while serving our clients and keeping people interested. Do your best to not test positive for a new strain of COVID – Creative Opportunities Vanishing In Distress.  

At Hoffman York, we’ll continue to do our part to ensure a strong creative idea is the cornerstone in all we do. (Cue the sappy piano music.)  “Now more than ever…” We are doing our best to follow these examples above and continue to stuff our faces with Spunow bars whenever possible. Even in the pandemic, we’re seeing examples of how our Return On Ideas! is generating great returns for our clients. See what we mean by checking out our work here.

Say hello.