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Marketers: Bright Spots in a Down Economy

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In an economy where consumers (not to mention businesses, banks, and state and local governments) must micromanage their spending, one reality stands out: You live, therefore you pay. Yes, the sum total of who you are, in bad times as well as good, can rightfully contain a price tag, conceived and valued by marketers. In short, our lives are a commodity-based-existence.

Advertising Age underscores this matter in a series called "Bright Spots"  of the down economy. One of these "bright spots" is that sales of sleeping pills and antidepressants have gone up recently because of the public's anxiety over money. Here's what they say:

"According to IMS Health, prescriptions for major sleeping pill brands rose 7% last year, while antidepressant-brand prescriptions jumped 15%...The economy, it appears is keeping us up at night, according to a new "Sleep in America" poll out this week from a Washington-based National Sleep Foundation."

In fact, according to one study, sleep is a $23 billion a year industry, with purchases ranging from sleep therapy to mattresses. One marketing vice president I know recommended, on behalf of his sleep-industry client, that people change their mattress every five years or so. When I expressed my surprise (I change my mattress at a regular cycle of hardly-ever-at-all) he shrugged. "Well, that's what they say. But, you know"  Such is the way of commodities.

No surprise--it's not just what's in and of us--but what we demand to keep us alive. Food is a commodity, Michelle Obama's organic gardening aside. (Besides, those organic manures and seeds have to come from somewhere, right?) Shelter (think foreclosures) is a commodity. So is water.

According to food writer and bottled water expert Michael Cervin, the water-as-commodity matter hits people especially hard. "We think water should be free, probably because it's so pure." Many people are used to getting their water from the tap and resent paying for the bottled kind. They forget that there's an infrastructure to support water that they pay for in local water bills or taxes."

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Water also supports the reality that in the commodity-based universe, one person's problem is another person's economic gain. Many municipal water sources are of dubious taste, for example, and tainted by drugs, pesticides, heavy metals and other containments. Others, like the water in my community, has cancer causing chemicals, as evidenced in the fine print warnings that come with our water bills.

Marketers have made much of this need and the big guys, as usual, are ahead. Cervin says there are approximately 500 water bottlers nationwide, but mega-names such as Coca Cola, who bottles the Dasani brand, swim at the top. Many have come under fire for portraying their brands as "fresh" and "clean," as in spring-fed and mountain-nurtured. In reality, many, Dasani included, are actually purified tap water: think smog and concrete. No matter, we've got to drink, right?

And speaking of problem-solvers: a bad economy offers plenty of them. Perhaps the killer is one of Advertising Age's "Bright Spots"--that gun makers and retailers are experiencing an economic surge. In fact, background checks have bumped up 42% last November to 1.5 million applicants.

The article is quick to point out that the increase in firearms results, in part, from Obama's presidency, which threatens to place new restrictions on gun ownership. But other incentives include hunting, a relatively inexpensive sport which also fills holes at the dinner table, and self-defense in what some perceive as an increasingly unsafe world.  In other words, touch my house or my belongings and I'll blow your head off.

Even better, this bright spot may have trickle-down economic advantages for the doctors, physical therapists, and funeral directors who get new business when the bullets fly. Something for (almost) everyone!

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Biography Communications expert, author, and entrepreneur Susan F. Benjamin is founder of Greater Voice Enterprises. Her short features and interviews with everyone from Hollywood celebrities to leading thinkers are aired online and on am/fm (more...)

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