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Five Ads That Get Inflation Messaging Right

Is there anyone who finds inflation convenient? Perhaps some overly enthusiastic high school math teacher who seizes the opportunity to create a particularly perplexing prompt? We can imagine how it might unfold:

If Billy bought 320 watermelons for his end-of-summer bash last year for $1387, and 47 packs of hot dogs for $100, how much should he budget for this year, accounting for the July 2022 inflation rate of 8.5%? And what if he had thrown his party the month before, and instead faced an increase of 9.1%?

Yikes. Jokes aside, inflation truly is everywhere, and people are feeling the impacts. Some Americans are not only cutting back on discretionary spending, but also changing their shopping habits around essentials. From buying smaller quantities, to switching to cheaper alternatives, to hunting more rigorously for bargains, many are leaving behind brands they’ve been loyal to in the past as they search for better prices.

Brand marketers are likely wondering: How do I approach inflation in my campaigns? Ignore it? Make jokes?? Approach with the utmost seriousness??? Maybe being back in high school doing those word problems wouldn’t be so terrible…

Though delving into the possibilities of time travel is tempting, we’ll instead focus today’s post on something a bit more actionable: how brands are addressing inflation in sensitive and effective ways. There’s certainly no silver bullet when it comes to advertising during times like these. However, we’ve dug up five ads that address the “I” word in a way that stands out, and we think there’s something to be learned from them. Let’s dive in.  

Everlane Reads the Room with Their Anti-Inflation Sale

Everlane launched their anti-inflation sale in early August. It was a timely campaign, seeing as it closely followed reports that inflation had hit its 40-year high of 9.1%.  

“Priced Like It’s 2019”—what a genius line! We were immediately transported to those glorious, pre-COVID, pre-invasion of Ukraine, pre-this-round-of-economic-uncertainty days, and clicked through the sale prices with nostalgic musings on simpler times.

Everlane’s intentionality is what made this campaign shine: they spoke to the moment by running the campaign when news around inflation was exploding, and they relayed a message that set off memories of a time when shopping was far more pleasant, thus disrupting the near-immediate negative feelings many have when they think about spending money in today’s economy.

Our key takeaway: This campaign shows just how impactful it can be when brands adjust their messaging to meet the complexity of the current moment. By pairing thoughtful, timely messaging with other strategies—such as retargeting key audiences across channels—brands can ensure that consumers are getting the right message, in the right way, at the right time.

Del Taco Leads with Humor (and Follows with Connection) 

Eggs that cost a bajillion dollars. Gas that costs $5,333.90 per gallon. Used cars starting near a million dollars. These are just a few of the outlandish images seen at the start of Del Taco’s video ad highlighting their “20 Under $2” menu.

And though the ad first ran when inflation was only 7% (ah, what a time), the takeaways for marketers are as relevant today as they were then.

This ad is a great example of a brand using humor effectively in a complex situation. It’s successful because of the level of exaggeration: the claims in the video are so extreme that they create a welcome sense of distance and separation from reality.

What Del Taco doesn’t do? Make jokes in a way that minimizes the struggles that consumers are facing. When you consider the fact that 84% of Americans plan to cut back on spending due to current economic conditions, it’s clear that inflation is seriously impacting peoples’ lives—and that’s nothing to take lightly. Del Taco walks the line by laughing with us, not at us. And, the ad goes an extra step to position Del Taco as supportive and understanding by following their jokes with the phrase “We get it, and we got you.”

Our key takeaway: Humor is best served with a side of empathy, especially when joking about things that have serious implications for peoples’ lives. At a time where brand loyalty is faltering, brands need to be especially mindful that their ads don’t alienate customers or leave them with feelings of distrust. This video ad reflects a deep understanding of the current consumer and seeks connection with them in a way that’s relevant. Del Taco isn’t afraid to use humor to get their point across, but they do it in a way that shows they “get” their customers.

Expedia Leans into Consumer Spending Trends

Over the last few months, inflation has had an outsized impact on goods, as compared to services. Case in point: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the prices of durable goods have risen by 14 percent over the past year, compared to the 5.4 percent increase in cost of services. Coupled with the fact that data shows consumers are spending less on things and more on experiences, companies that provide services—such as travel brands—are well positioned to engage with customers.

In their recent campaign, Expedia used these factors to their advantage. Their ad “Stuff: Made to Travel” is all about how most people don’t look back thinking about the stuff they bought, but rather the experiences they had. They don’t explicitly talk about inflation in their video ad; instead, they imply its impact by concluding with a clip of a family running on a beach alongside the words “Save more on the things that matter.”

Our key takeaway: Paying attention to current trends is always critical in advertising, but even more so during times of economic instability and uncertainty. By understanding the factors impacting and driving consumers, and thinking creatively about the opportunities they present, brands will be well-positioned to convey their value within a specific moment.

Outdoorsy Offers an Escape

Okay, we know services and travel brands might have it a bit easier right now, but hear us out! This ad from Outdoorsy offers takeaways for brands of all industries.

Unlike Expedia’s ad that addressed inflation in a highly nuanced way, Outdoorsy’s names it up-front. Not only that—they take it a step further and offer potential consumers an escape. In this video, they show stunning images of people exploring nature, each with accompanying words that say something along the lines of “no inflation here.” As an RV-booking company, they then highlight their unique offering and how it’s relevant to the present moment: skip the expensive, flashy travel, and book an RV instead.

Brands across all industries can employ a similar advertising approach by considering questions like:

  • What experience does—or could—my product facilitate in the context of inflation?
  • What makes my product stand out within the current economic environment?    

Our key takeaway: Highlight your brand’s key differentiators in the current landscape. For Outdoorsy, this meant not only talking about travel, but also about their offerings as an RV-booking company, which allows customers to forego pricey hotels and flights during a time when they are especially expensive. By leaning into what makes their brand unique, they crafted messaging that not only meets the moment but also elevates their brand within the moment.

Fresh Thyme Market Emphasizes Value

As we mentioned earlier, goods have been hit harder by inflation than services, and grocery stores are a prime example. To gather anecdotal data on where people have hit their “inflation breaking points,” one Vox reporter asked her Twitter following—and found that the most common response was “at the grocery store.” What can brands do when the places they sell their goods inherently elicit stress?

One winning example is Fresh Thyme Market’s video ad, “Immerse Yourself.” The video explores the connection between the goods we buy and where they come from, with imagery designed to generate bliss and contentment. It opens with images of a fisherman at sea, fresh peaches being brought in from an orchard, and a woman walking through a sun-kissed field of lavender; then shifts to images of people shopping at Fresh Thyme Market for these specific products.

By juxtaposing goods’ pastoral origins with their moments of purchase, the ad reminds consumers of the enjoyment and contentment that can be found in food. Like Outdoorsy’s ad, it leans into the experiences offered by their products, emphasizing the specific value of the fresh and local food sold at Fresh Thyme.

The ad concludes with a quick mention of affordability: “real healthy food, at real affordable prices.” This further drives home the point that, amidst inflation, Fresh Thyme offers customers something valuable.

Our key takeaway: Consumers need to know what value your product or brand provides, especially within today’s economic context. Even if you don’t want to explicitly discuss or name inflation in your marketing, it’s important to convey your brand’s differentiators in a compelling way.   

Ads with Inflation Messaging – Wrapping Up:

There is no “one way” to advertise during times of economic uncertainty. But knowing your consumer, understanding the moment, and approaching challenges with a balance of humor and empathy can go a long way.

To really understand where customers are coming from, it’s important to stay up-to-date on all the complex factors shaping today’s marketing landscape. But researching and finding what’s most relevant can be time-consuming (And you’re busy! We get it!)

Here’s where we can help. We put together a monthly newsletter, Basis Scout, where we round up all the hottest intel in ad tech and digital marketing. For digital advertising professionals trying to keep a pulse on what’s happening, it’s a no brainer.

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