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A Great Time to Be in Business: 5 Rules for Making Money During a Recession

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

The bailout of Bear Stearns could be the first of a wave of financial lifeboats. US housing is overpriced. Retail sales are in the dumps. And the consumer spending spree that fluffed up the economy for a few years? Done.

"In short," enthuses Jack Neff in yesterday's Ad Age, "it's a great time to be in marketing."

In fact, previous recessions have been very, very good for some businesses, spawning (among other things) soap operas, modern cable networks, airline loyalty programs, the iPod, Crest Whitestrips, Axe body spray and lots more, Neff says.

In other words, relax - it's not so bad. Breathe in. Breathe out. Have a Coke and a smile.

And then consider these rules for marketing in a down economy:

Don't cut the budget. Assuming you can still afford it, "recessions offer what may be unprecedented opportunities to market in an environment of relatively less noise as others cut back," Neff says.

Maintain strong launches. Some things really are recession-proof.Even in the deepest, darkest recessions, "things that truly appeal to consumers, be they soap operas, CNN or disposable training pants, still flourished," Neff writes.

Get a little silly. "You can't go wrong with diversion: Media, entertainment and other forms of cheap frivolity can be the bread-and-circus salve for hard times -- from the soap operas of the 1930s to MTV in the 1980s to [in 2002] the iPod and Axe body spray."

Beware the slash and burn. Keep your prices up, unless you have a good reason not to (like a one-time event to move inventory or similar). "Unless the price reduction is truly strategic -- e.g., a discount retailer or brokerage or a one-time event to drive traffic -- you could live to regret it," he says.

You might as well dance. "Some of the most successful recession-era launches were natural offshoots of the conditions created by or causing the crisis, i.e. high gas prices spawning fuel-efficient cars [or] interest bearing checking accounts that sprang from high interest rates in the 1970s and '80s," according to Neff.

(Bonus link: Could a recession also be green-friendly?)

Ann Handley also writes at her personal blog, A n n a r c h y.

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