WHAT HAPPENED: Lasting from 1929 until 1938, The Great Depression was the biggest economic crisis in U.S. history. Low wages and high unemployment (19% until 1939) slowed consumer spending and caused unsold goods to pile up. 

HOW THEY RESPONDED

PROCTER AND GAMBLE: While The Great Depression led most consumer product companies to cut back on advertising, Procter and Gamble (P&G) took the opposite approach. Instead of cutting its advertising costs, P&G launched commercial radio broadcasts for the first time during the Great Depression— sponsoring daily radio serials (the original term for soap operas) to reach its core demo of homemakers.

  • In 1933 P&G launched its own serial, “Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins,” which became an instant hit with women across the U.S. The program was so successful that P&G introduced similar radio programs to support its other brands, and by 1939, the company was producing 21 soap operas.
  • In 1940 the company started its own production division for soap operas and in 1950 it launched the first television soap opera series, “The First Hundred Years.”

KELLOGG’S: During the 1920s, Post was the leader in the ready-to-eat dry cereal category. During the Great Depression, Post significantly reduced its advertising budget while its rival Kellogg doubled its advertising spend, investing heavily in radio.

  • Kellogg launched a new cereal brand called Rice Krispies in 1928, introducing “Snap,” “Crackle” and “Pop” characters featured on its packaging and in its radio ads. Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% as it took market share from Post, becoming the category leader it is today.

The Big Questions

Actionable questions that can influence your business. 

  • What areas can you invest in now that your competitors are cutting back on?
  • How can you focus on creating awareness when you have fewer competitors vying for attention?
  • Can you shift attention and ad spend towards other parts of your marketing that took a back seat (i.e. SEO)?