What Three Recessionary Trends
Mean for Your Copy

During the lion’s share of my formative years, my parents drove a midnight blue 1964 Pontiac Tempest. They didn’t get rid of it until 1986. AM radio. No air conditioning. They had it reupholstered when they added the seatbelts. But until then, stuffing would escape from the cracks in the light blue vinyl. When the windows were open, that stuffing would fly around the interior like the seed pods in a cottonwood grove.

We were hardly destitute. My father was a professor and my mother an elementary school teacher. It’s just that my folks didn’t believe in spending money on cars. That car got them from point A to point B for 22 years. And it was paid for.

I grew up with a recessionary mindset. Thrift isn’t something I’ve had to learn of late. But lots of people have. The way they feel, their concerns, and their priorities have shifted in the last 18 months.

This newfound thriftiness is just one recessionary trend worth pondering when you sit down to write. Because copy works only when it speaks to a reader “where he lives.” And that habitat looks a lot different today than it did early last year.

Now, I’ve mentioned thrift already. But let’s take a closer look at it — and at a couple more trends, too — and talk about what they mean for the copy you write today.

Trend # 1: Thriftiness. Even among the well-heeled, flaunting wealth is no longer chic. Have you heard about shoppers at Tiffany’s asking clerks to brown bag their purchases?

Time magazine reports, “4 in 10 people earning more than $100,000 say they are buying more store brands, 36% are using coupons more, and 39% have postponed or canceled a vacation to save money.”

As one financial advisor quoted in The New York Times put it: “Saving money is the new black.”

What does that mean for your copy? It means that good value is more important than ever. So look at your offer. Do you stress what a good deal it is? Can you make it an even better deal?

Coupled with the idea of thrift comes quality. It’s like my parents’ old Pontiac. That thing was built to last. And it did. In what ways is the product you’re selling “built to last?” How does it exemplify quality? Highlight those things. They matter to people now in a way they haven’t for years.

Trend #2: Nostalgia. When times are tough, people tend to retreat to “safer ground.” They romanticize childhood icons and symbols of the past, times when things were easier, simpler, happier. Have you noticed that those cute little fifties-era sweater sets are back in vogue? Record sales (I’m talking vinyl here) have increased 89% since 2007.

What does that mean for your copy? It means that “retro” images — created both in words and in the illustrations you choose — hold real power today.

We’re coming off an era of conspicuous consumption, and people are turning their focus away from “stuff” toward things that “matter more.”

The idea of simplifying, of getting back-to-basics has new-found resonance today. So think about how the product you’re selling helps simplify your prospect’s life. What kinds of solutions can your product provide that will help your reader recapture those “better days?”

Trend #3: Maturity. When times were good and credit was loose, people wanted the new-fangled … they’d pay for the hot fad. And they’d follow any young, swaggering bloke to get it.

But where did that land them? These days … maturity is fashionable. The idea of measured judgment doesn’t seem so geeky any more. People want to see accountability and responsibility.

What does that mean for your copy? Beef up your track record. Now’s the time to make a case for the tried-and-true. If you’ve got an expert with a solid resume and shining clientele, talk that up. If your product has been around for three decades, shout about that well-earned longevity.

In early November at AWAI’s Bootcamp, copywriter Will Newman and I are going to talk about creating desire in your prospect. But the truth is, you can only do that if you’ve got a strong sense for who that prospect is. So we’ll talk, too, about these trends and others, and give you some tools you can use to pinpoint the ideas which will resonate most with your readers.

I should say, too … that those “tools” represent one of the ways Bootcamp is so different from a typical conference. It’s not like a program where you sit back and take notes all day. Sure, you walk away with lots of scribbled insights and ideas. But more important – you know exactly what to do with them.

In fact, this year all of us presenters have pledged to focus even more than ever on the “how to.” And that means we’re coming to Florida with exercises and little mini-assignments in hand. We’ll be asking everybody to roll up their sleeves and really “do” something. Apply right then and there what we’re talking about. And we’ll walk you through it.

It’s like the difference between watching a cooking show on TV and actually standing at the counter with the chef. You learn when you get your hands into the flour. (And you have more fun, too.)

I hope I’ll see you there. Come up and introduce yourself. I’ll be the one with the sifter and the apron.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: August 26, 2009

1 Response to “What Three Recessionary Trends Mean for Your Copy”

  1. Good Morning Jen, I enjoyed your presentation last year and I am looking forward to this years
    "Bootcamp". I am looking forward to seeing you with an apron and a sifter in your hand. I am so happy that my daughter can join me again this year. Have a nice day.
    Cheers Millie

    Millie MartinSeptember 8, 2009 at 10:50 am


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