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Mama Mia, it must be tough out there! Brand popularity in times of recession.

Mama Mia, it must be tough out there! Brand popularity in times of recession

High oil prices, rising inflation and stalling growth – it’s time to bring on the music of Abba!

The Swedish songsters rose to international stardom by winning the Eurovision song contest with Waterloo during the first oil shock of the mid-1970s. During the second oil shock in 1979, Abba was the world’s biggest band, belting out hit tunes such as Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and Super Trouper. When recession struck in the early-1990s, the group’s greatest-hits album, Abba Gold, topped the UK charts and Australian tribute band Bjorn Again was playing to packed houses across the globe. Mama Mia!, the stage musical with a plot written around the lyrics of Abba tunes, opened in 1999, just as the price of oil spiked again. And now, in 2008, with the oil price reaching record highs, the film version of Mama Mia!, starring the indefatigable Meryl Streep, is enjoying success at the box-office.

The film is energetic, fun and flooded with Mediterranean sunlight. The music reinforces the feel-good factor. It’s just the tonic we need when high food and fuel prices are denting disposable income – and all for the price of a cinema ticket. No wonder the film industry likes a recession.

Benady (Marketing Week, 22 May 2008) points out that the safest stocks when the economic chips are down are tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment and armaments. Low-price supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl and Netto prosper at the expense of more mainstream companies like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Carrefour. Domestic holidays and pizza at home replace flights to foreign destinations and meals in upmarket restaurants. If recent evidence is anything to go by, even camping and cycling make a comeback.

Benady argues that the brands which forge the strongest links with consumers during the good times are the best placed to thrive when the going gets tough. But people still seek out the lowest price they can for these brands, with the Internet helping them to find the best bargains.

Of course, there will always be brands that can play a role in alleviating customers’ anxiety by providing little uplifts in their lives. If those brands provide a reminder of more plentiful times, so much the better. Parry (Marketing Week, 29 May 2008) highlights the return of Cadbury’s Wispa, following pressure from social networking groups to bring back the chocolate bar. Whole novels and films have revolved around people’s emotional attachment to chocolate, and Parry suggests that the Wispa relaunch may have triumphed partly because the bar reminds them of their childhood and a simpler time. It also gives parents the chance to introduce their children to the brand, creating a narrative and a bit more of an emotional engagement.

Nostalgia brands can inject new energy into a mature market – which is particularly useful for confectioners who operate in a sector where the scope for innovation is limited and new brands often fail to make an impact. But product relaunches are no panacea. While bringing back brands in a blaze of publicity can generate strong sales for a short time, the longer-term outlook may not be so healthy. Remember, Wispa was originally scrapped because too few people bought the chocolate bar the first time round.