Executives who succumb to that temptation, however, put the long-term future of their companies at risk, according to Wharton faculty and advertising experts.

"The first reaction is to cut, cut, cut, and advertising is one of the first things to go," says Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader, adding that as companies slash advertising in a downturn, they leave empty space in consumers' minds for aggressive marketers to make strong inroads. Today's economy "provides an unusual opportunity to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd," says Fader, "but it takes a lot of courage and convincing to get senior management on board with that."

According to Wharton marketing professor Leonard Lodish, with demand slack for advertising services, the cost of these services goes down, making advertising expenditures all the more defensible in a bad business climate. "If your company has something to say that is relevant in this environment, it's going to be more efficient to say it now than to say it in better times," says Lodish.

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