Tough Times Can Set ...


What is your company (or client) doing that deviates from the status quo?

I ask this question after being reminded by a 2009 New Yorker article “Hanging Tough,” that difficult economic times can produce rich fodder for storytelling.

Let’s talk cereal.

The New Yorker piece points out that when the Great Depression hit, cold cereal had yet to put a dent in the breakfast standbys, oatmeal and cream of wheat.

A quick aside –

After weeks of standard dinner fare, is there anything better than a bowl of cereal – perhaps Frosted Flakes if I’m feeling particularly decadent – while ESPN’s SportsCenter blares from the flat screen?

Frosted Flakes-Kelloggs Cereal

Back to the Gr-r-reat Depression.

The New Yorker piece notes that Post and Kellogg’s took divergent paths:

Post did the predictable thing: it reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. (Snap, Crackle, and Pop first appeared in the thirties.) By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost thirty per cent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.

The vast majority of companies cut costs across the entire enterprise.

That’s what happened at Post.

But Kellogg’s opted to zig when conventional wisdom said to zag.

How has your company invested over the past three years?

Take a look at areas such as:

  • R&D
  • Marketing
  • Employee count
  • Revenue from products/services less than two years old
  • Consumption of Rice Krispies

Any one of these variables (aside from the consumption of Rice Krispies) can be an indicator of a compelling story below the surface.

There’s a terrific writing tip from Kurt Vonnegut:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

You don’t have to be a sadist.

The economy has already taken care of the dirty work.

All you need to do is uncover those actions that show what your company is made of.

Happy digging.

P.S. A quick thanks to Kari Ramirez for sending The New Yorker story my way.

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