A Marketing Lesson from Rice Krispies

1930s ad for Rice Krispies

1930s ad for Rice Krispies

An email update from The Field brought to my attention James Surowiecki’s recent column in The New Yorker. He discusses marketing decisions made by Kellogg and Post cereals during the Great Depression as a lesson for today’s companies, which are undoubtedly pondering how much to invest in advertising and where to make cuts. Of course, arts organizations are also facing the same tough decisions. Keep them in mind when reading the following excerpt from Surowiecki’s column:

“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 thirties.) By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost thirty per cent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.

You’d think that everyone would want to emulate Kellogg’s success, but, when hard times hit, most companies end up behaving more like Post. They hunker down, cut spending, and wait for good times to return. They make fewer acquisitions, even though prices are cheaper. They cut advertising budgets. And often they invest less in research and development. They do all this to preserve what they have. But there’s a trade-off: numerous studies have shown that companies that keep spending on acquisition, advertising, and R. & D. during recessions do significantly better than those which make big cuts.”

Assuming arts organizations want to end up like Rice Krispies rather than a forgotten Post cereal, cuts shouldn’t be made to marketing or programs during uncertain times. If anything, a recession provides an opportunity to invest in these areas in order to stand out from the crowd. There are definitely arts leaders who are aware of this, but still many others who fear taking risks when the future remains unclear. So it cannot be emphasized enough: without programming and marketing, arts organizations have no audience and therefore cannot exist.

The Field happens to offer a variety of upcoming career workshops that focus on marketing and publicity, which could be a worthwhile investment for individuals working in the arts.

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2 Responses to A Marketing Lesson from Rice Krispies

  1. Danielle says:

    Wow! This is so interesting, Evan!

  2. Jackie says:

    Kellogg wasn’t the only one who increased advertising during the depression, so did Procter & Gamble. They sponsored “soap operas” on the radio. I ate Rice Krispies and Granny listened to the soaps!

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