When you see charts like this from the US, it's hard to be optimistic. Obviously there's a lot of pain and hardship behind these numbers.
But mixed in amongst these challenges are stories of creative thinking and ingenuity, and a focus from brands, marketers and agencies of all types on delivering even greater value to their customers. An initial gut reaction might be to tighten the belt, but as Steve talks about recently, brands do so at their own peril. He cites the example of Post Cereal during the depression of 1929. They were the leading cereal brand at the time. They cut back their marketing budget, Kelloggs did the opposite - and never looked back.
For a dose of optimism, I like to look to the story of Etsy - the online marketplace for handmade products who are experiencing continued and rapid growth through 2009, despite the overall global downturn.
In a recent interview, Etsy founder Robert Kalin talked about value, and what it means.
"When you don’t have as much money to spend, what is value to you? And I think to a lot of people, value isn’t how cheap something is, value’s how meaningful something is"
Or there's more creativity to be found at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. They needed to increase visitors, particularly amongst the younger set - quite a challenge when you consider that natural history is unlikely to be high on their bucket list.
So they re-invented the museum experience, and called it First Fridays - a truly magical idea that fuses t-rexes and triceratops, cool live music, great food and wine, and sexy lighting - pure awesomeness. Building on an experience that was all about discovery and knowledge, they mixed in some modern relevance resulting in a unique and memorable experience (lots more images over at Notcot). Surely we need more of this type of creativity and less of this?.