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Richard Laermer

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Bad News Is Good News: All in the Pitch

Posted: 09/06/11 11:02 AM ET

Bad shit is everywhere. It's unavoidable. The economy is in shambles, we still have millions of Americans without health insurance, unemployment sits at 9.2%, 43 out of 50 states are operating on a budget deficit, the Kardashians are still talking, our weather is unbearable, and I just learned that iTunes is no longer renting TV shows!

Meanwhile, enterprising salespeople have figured out how to keep their business heads above water and even prosper despite experiencing these bleakest of times, merely by making us feel better about mocking the world's worst experiences.

A great example of the general mopeyness of society today is found on television. Jerry Springer, the veteran host whose syndicated "talk" show is only slightly less cartoon-like than Sally Jessy Raphael before him, has made a living for a coupla hundred seasons telling people bad news and reveling in it. People parade onto his stage to be told after a DNA test that they "are NOT the father!" or to be made aware after a lie detector test that their partner has "cheated with more than three women!"

Since the recession started, Springer, the former Mayor of Cincinnati, is holding steady to decent ratings, even outpacing Martha-lite Rachael Ray in a few markets. People apparently need to know that someone else is in a crappier position than they are.

Product marketers are also getting into the act. SC Johnson, "A Family Company," is playing up the economic crisis by advertising its super cheap line of scented oil candles, Glade, as a serious alternative to paying more money for the same great-smelling (maybe) effect. In a TV spot playing for a year, each time a woman lights an expensive candle, there is a cash register KA-CHING noise in the foreground. The implication is "Hey! You've got no money. Why are you spending 25 cents every time you light that candle when you could buy a Glade for just a penny?"

Glade is still kind of a crummy product -- there is a reason why it is so inexpensive -- but $3 and a trip to Target sure beats paying Yankee Candle $25 for the freaking privilege of having my kitchen smell like fresh-baked cookies. (Who doesn't love fresh-baked anything?)

Even in once recession-proof New York, local restaurants and businesses are pushing Recession Specials -- as if we need a reminder. A New Jersey-based Italian dinner seller is pushing Recession Plate Dinners of steak and lobster for 19.95! A popular sandwich shop in the recycling capital of Park Slope had a grilled cheese and a cup of soup for four bucks (it was yummy, I admit). Four bucks is stealing when you are a Yupster living in the trendiest part of Brooklyn! On my last trip there Cookie couldn't fry the Gruyere on organic brioche fast enough.

Bad news is the word. I went on a rampage some weeks ago about earth's missing grammar skills; people slammed me as part of theGrammar Police and said it wasn't that big a deal. So when Old Navy put out these shirts with "Lets" instead of "Let's" emblazoned on 'em I decided to list a bunch of stores on Twitter that know how to spell. A simple sample of courtesy... and a way to boost readers... and have them listen to me for a change. It worked.

Even down-to-earth types are selling by making us feel bad. The most recent example is touring guitarist Vance Gilbert, a fantastic and funny folk face, who recently sold out his evenings while shouting about United's probably racist and totally boneheaded profiling on his blog and Facebook.

Okay, so is there a point to this rant? And are you in business? You want to generate north-leaning numbers? You want me to stop asking questions? Jump on this bad news bandwagon, 'cause it won't be going away anytime soon. Locate something you can tout that will make people feel horrific -- and then explain why you're around to lean on.

Everyone selling something has become a complaint machine gone awry! I got a thousand email releases dropped on me from product marketers shouting they're there for customers during the weirdness of nature's unexpected earthquake and hurricane duet.

It is why the Weather Channel had its best ratings ever in the past month, baby.

Appears that be you baker, banker, or candle maker, making people feel like they will be in a better mindset can sell something to said population. All you need to do is to make fun of someone or the facts of living or force consumers to see that people are worse off than they are to become the greatest thing since sliced bread -- or smelly beeswax.

What are your bad news stories? I am @laermer on Twitter.

PostScript: Old Navy caught wind of our endless mocking and removed those shirts with comedy and a nod to the quick-eyed.

 
 
 

Follow Richard Laermer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/laermer