Economy-Proof Ads Funny Beats Frugal in Advertising

Economy-Proof Ads Funny Beats Frugal in Advertising

By James Russo, Vice President, Global Consumer Insights, Nielsen

In 2011, worldwide ad spending totaled $488 billion, $72 billion of which was spent on U.S. television alone. Over the next decade, estimated global consumer spending will exceed $450 trillion. With so much at stake—and many markets continuing to face tough economic realities, how do advertisers reach and resonate with an increasingly diverse, demanding and connected audience? Nielsen conducted an in-depth custom research study of advertising effectiveness of more than 4,000 ads before, during and after the “Great Recession” to find out.

What we wanted to know: to what extent, if any, has the tumultuous economic climate and subsequent attitude shifts impacted consumer responsiveness to various creative tactics?

The Findings

  • Humorous ads have consistently resonated best with viewers, regardless of the economy or year
  • During the recession, there was a notable lift in effectiveness of sentimental and value-oriented ads
  • Ads focused on product features and promotion/price do not resonate with viewers . . . . even during  tough economic times
  • The performance of narrative and sentimental ads has improved since 2006


Trends to Watch

Advertising effectiveness has never been more closely tied to consumer confidence. The global recession shook consumer confidence.  Economic cycles can now help predict ad effectiveness and consumer responsiveness to various creative strategies.

Look for the rise of the global middle class, urbanization, the new female economy and a notable shift in advertising spending to all be engines for change and the future growth of consumer spending.


Nielsen looked at more than 4,000 U.S. CPG ads from 2006 to 2011 and categorized the ads by creative approach: humor, narrative, sentimental, product, promotional and value. The study then evaluated the “effectiveness” of each creative approach through different phases – pre (2006-2007) during (2008-2009) and post (2010-2011) – of the most recent recession cycle.