What Happened

OPEC raised U.S. oil prices in 1973, which triggered a 17 month recession. Excess spending from the Vietnam War and a stock market crash during the same year also played a role.

How they responded

TOYOTA: The American passenger car market plunged 22 percent from the year before. When the recession hit, Toyota considered spending less on advertising to cut costs and instead rely on organic demand to drive sales: It sold more than 20,000 Toyota Corona cars in 1966 and was the third best-selling import brand in the U.S. by 1967. But instead of cutting back, it maintained its budgets throughout the recession.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE THE TIMES: The company’s messaging was on-brand, relevant, and culturally aware—Toyota’s campaigns simultaneously acknowledged the oil crisis and promoted its products. Toyota launched the “Use Gas Wisely” campaign (1973) to encourage consumers to save resources and the “Compound Thought” campaign (1975) to create awareness for gas-efficient vehicles and communicate how it was tackling the oil crisis.

  • STAY CREATIVE: Toyota launched some of its most memorable marketing campaigns during the 1970s, using tag lines that included “You Asked For It/You Got It!” (1975-1979) and the hit “Oh What A Feeling!” campaign that included the recognizable “Toyota Jump” messaging. Each of its campaigns creatively balanced fresh takes on foundational brand messaging with the sentiment of the moment.

By the end of 1975, Toyota’s advertising efforts and its consistent communication strategy led the company to surpass Volkswagen as the number one import brand in the U.S.

FEDEX: FedEx launched in 1971, just a few years before the recession began. The company got off to a strong start, but the onset of the recession in 1973 and inflated fuel prices led the company to unprofitability—it was hemorrhaging more than $1 million a month. To reverse the downward spiral, FedEx turned to advertising to gain more awareness and highlight its ability to solve urgent shipping problems.

  • MAKE BOLD COMMITMENTS: The company invested in memorable ad campaigns and aggressively advertised on television. Its famous campaign launched with the slogan, “FedEx, when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” The humorous campaign, combined with the company’s ability to deliver on its promise, helped FedEx boost its awareness and gain a competitive advantage over UPS and DHL.

In 1975, FedEx turned a profit of $3.6 million. Three years later, FedEx went public and by 1979, only eight years later, the company’s revenue grew to $258.5 million.