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Companies tailor marketing to jobless

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Kai Ryssdal: Companies are doing almost anything they can to move their product out the door. So they are picking up on the current economic zeitgeist, that would be a lingering fear of unemployment. Today Ford and General Motors announced programs to help customers pay for new cars if they lose their jobs. Walgreens is offering free health care to its jobless customers. From North Carolina Public Radio, Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports that in this recession, appealing to the newly out of work may be the best marketing strategy left.

JANET BABIN: It looks like capitalism has turned compassionate: companies are tripping over themselves to give breaks to customers who lose their jobs.

Walgreen’s clinic patients who get laid off will now get free treatment for minor ailments. Each visit is worth about $59. The clinics operate in 16 states, and Walgreen’s plans to expand the program this year. Lauren Nestler is with Walgreen’s health and wellness division.

Lauren Nestler: Our hope is that we’re able to ease the stress of patients and families that are suffering a job loss and loss of health insurance during these tough economic times.

And that more customers will go to Walgreen’s clinics when the recession’s over. Marketer Davia Temin at Temin and Company says these deals from Walgreen’s, car companies and other retailers could get expensive.

Davia Temin: First of all you have to advertise them, so you’ve got the same advertising costs that you would have regardless. And then on top of that you have what it would cost to actually give the breaks that they’re promising.

But the strategy could be worth it to build brand loyalty. Temin says you don’t forget a friend, or company, that helps you out when the going gets tough.

Companies better deliver though on their promises. Marissa Gluck at Radar Research says to work, the offers can’t be mired in fine print.

Marissa Gluck: Consumers in their 20s, 30s, 40s are relatively cynical. So when companies do roll out these marketing campaigns, they run the risk of not being seen as particularly authentic.

Or worse, their failed campaigns could become associated with public anger over the economy.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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