Dorothy Crenshaw February 18, 2009 | 03:27:14

Frugal Is The New Black

Last night I had dinner with an old friend who does stock market analysis, and our conversation around the economy was pretty much “an orgy of pessimism,”  in the words of Philippe Daumann. But, enough about that. The more interesting part of the discussion was about “the new frugal.”  My friend feels that no marketers have yet managed to align their brand with the trend and position thriftiness as chic and cool. I disagreed, yet couldn’t think of many brands who’ve adapted to the recessionary economy in a creative way, apart from those who’ve always stood for lower prices, i.e. Wal-Mart, Costco. Determined to come up with some good examples, I conducted a straw poll of the staff, and we came up with a short list of brand and initiatives who’ve adapted to the environment in an appealing way. Call it the “New Frugal” Honor Roll.

Rock & Republic’s “Recession Special” still isn’t cheap, but the campaign to pre-promote a limited edition recession special makes us feel it’s cool to dress down along with the economy.

DeBeers’ “Here’s to Less” campaign is another good example of an upscale brand that’s willing to address the issue directly. The copy, which is pretty powerful, tries to differentiate diamonds from other “stuff we buy but never love.”  Okay, I’m convinced.

I’m not so sure about the Porsche “I Can” platform where you pick your model and then visualize owning it through desktop wallpaper. To me, the copy sounds too much like a new age affirmation gone horribly wrong, but the wireless campaign execution seems much more on-target. It addressed the buyer “perception gap” – it seems many people think a Porsche is pricier than it really is – and successfully targeted the young and upwardly “mobile.”

The most winning, and heartfelt, example, however, may be Allstate’s “Depression Chic” spot that reminds us the insurance giant opened its doors in 1931, weathered the storm while helping its customers do the same, and is still here today, some 12 recessions later. The fact that it features longtime spokesactor Dennis Haysbert, who to me will always be America’s First Black President, the cool and steely-minded David Palmer of “24” fame, pushes the whole campaign close to perfection.

Finally, at least one agency client deserves a mention, with one more to come next week.  Comparison shopping search engine has added amenities and features that actually make online shopping fun, while promoted by campaigns that soft-sell what it offers – value.