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Marketers target job-loss fears

The recession has given the marketing world a twist: ads that boast about helping the newly unemployed.

Some of the nation’s savviest marketers also have figured out that the best way to get folks who fear job loss to spend money is to promise them a rebate, refund or special deal if they are laid off shortly after the purchase.

“Altruism marketing is a powerful way to say, “We care,’ ” says Michael Silverstein, senior vice president at Boston Consulting Group. “I expect to see a lot more of it over the next 90 days.”

Today, Walgreens will unveil an offer that promises customers of the drug chain’s in-store health care clinics free family services for the rest of 2009 if they lose their jobs. It’s limited to stuff such as colds, earaches and allergies, not major health issues. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” says Hal Rosenbluth, president of Walgreens Health and Wellness division.

Walgreens is just the latest retailer to offer special deals to the jobless. The national unemployment rate hit 8.1 percent in February.

Who’s doing it now:

• Health care. The Walgreens plan is offered at its 342 Take Care Clinics located inside a limited number of Walgreens stores. The service is available to the unemployed and their dependents who are uninsured and had used the service prior to their job loss. (Details: takecarerecoveryplan.com.)

Besides helping the jobless and their families, the move also will build “greater awareness” of the rapidly expanding health clinic chain, Rosenbluth says.

• Cars. Under Hyundai Assurance Plus, the carmaker will make up to three car payments for new Hyundai buyers who lose their jobs, and let them give the car back without penalty if they still haven’t found work. Hyundai’s Internet traffic is up 22 percent this year, says Joel Ewanick, marketing chief.

AutoNation, the giant car retailer, just rolled out a program that will make car payments for up to six months for car buyers who lose their jobs.

• Airlines. JetBlue is waving flight-cancellation fees – up to $100 per ticket – for customers who lose their jobs. The deal was expanded this month to vacation packages booked via JetBlue.

• Retailers. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, the men’s clothing chain, recently took job-loss aid to the next step. Customers who buy its $199 suits and lose their jobs will have their money refunded and can keep the suits. “Like all retailers, we find motivating customers to purchase is challenging,” CEO Neal Black says. “We expect to make some long-term customers out of this promotion.”

• Business services. FedEx Office this month had 24,000 people take it up on its one-day offer to print 25 free rÈsumÈs for folks who had lost their jobs. About 890,000 were printed, says CEO Brian Philips, who received hundreds of thank-you notes and e-mails. One Ohio pastor used a church bus to take congregants to the store for the free rÈsumÈs.




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