Saturday, April 25, 2009

Recessions get a bad rap

Advertising Age had an article last week about the big increases being seen in private label, “Don't Blame Private-Label Gains on the Recession”.
Not only have private label brands been gaining share for the past decade, experts say these gains are the single-biggest problem facing branded packaged goods players. House brands, once a staple of lower-income households, now enjoy roughly equal penetration among demographic segments. Improvements in quality and packaging have helped removed the stigma attached to buying a no-name product.
The recession has accelerated the growth of private label, but it is a long term trend that was happening before the recession and will (presumably) continue, though at perhaps a reduced rate, when the recession is over. The increasing concentration of retail, and the increasing power of the surviving retailers, virtually ensures it.

That’s an interesting thing about recessions – they speed up trends that already exist, especially speeding up the effects of secular decline. Besides private label, we see similar effects from the recession in media and retail. (I did a similar post on this point almost exactly a year ago).

Some of the biggest (or at least most publicized) hits in this recession have been felt by the big media, especially newspapers. But media watchers have been warning about the effects of media fragmentation for the past few years (I did a presentation on its effects on trade promo at a TPMA meeting three or four years ago – and I wasn’t first), and newspapers have been in decline even longer. The recession has merely exacerbated existing problems.

In retail, department stores are hurting, and several chains (including Linens ‘n Things and Circuit City) have liquidated. But the consolidation of channels has been killing off the also-rans in each channel for years now, and department stores’ market share has been dropping for decades. Again, the recession has just sped up processes that were already in action.

It’s convenient to blame recessions for business problems. But often the recession merely exposed the problem, it didn’t create it.

Some brand marketers may want to believe that the recovery will solve their problems with private label, and media people and retailers may have similar dreams, but the recovery will solve nothing if the underlying problems are not addressed.

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