As in previous bust times, real estate ads promote value

With next month marking the one-year anniversary of the fall of Lehman Brothers, “recession specials” continue to dominate advertisements. And as in previous bust periods, today’s real estate ads sell value to entice today’s budget-conscious consumers, not luxury.

A collection of ads above illustrates the change in advertising over the
last several years. The first six ads are from the boom times, trying
to use sex and high-end lifestyle to sell units, and the last nine are from the bust period, emphasizing

“Now, it’s almost taboo to talk about living the high life; having an ostentatious lifestyle is not advertised like it was in the mid-1990s, during a boom period. Instead, your home is looked at as a smart investment,” said Scott Aaron, a principal at Benchmark Real Estate Partners, Whose Projects Have Included Chelsea Condominium 100 West 18th Street.

Even at the Upper West Side’s Apthorp, where elegance and luxury were key marketing points a few years ago, the development is now plugging its slashed prices and “once in a lifetime” opportunities to bottom-fishing homebuyers looking to live in a once unattainable locale.

“When the market is tighter, there are less spoil-yourself type of messages and people are focused on value and product,” said Ron Nelson, creative director at Sherman Advertising Associates, the firm that markets the Apthorp and other big name developments such as Crystal Point in Jersey City and the Platinum, for which his company doctored versions of nude photographs.

“People are more focused on the stability element of owning a home,” said Christina Lowris-Panos, executive vice president of marketing and advertising at the Corcoran Group.

And stability does not often come across through risqué, edgy ads that were all the rave when the number of condo units coming online kept increasing and developers sought ways to distinguish themselves.

In 2005, Citi Habitats marketed Herald Towers, at 50 West 34th Street,
with an ad featuring a woman sitting on a shirtless man on a bed with the overtly sexual tagline:
“Try this at home.”

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“It has always been unfashionable to market luxury during a bust period,” said Shaun Osher, CEO of Core, who marketed Andre Balazs’ William Beaver House in mid-2007, following Corcoran
Sunshine Marketing Group, who used marketing materials showing a cartoon beaver and barely clothed
cartoon characters living it up. “The ad campaigns during the boom period of the 1990s are different than during the credit crunch period of 2007, and are even more different during a recession, like we are in right now.”

Power broker Patricia Burnham of P.S. Burnham,
a firm she founded in 1983, said, “When a market is going through a boom period, ads are image driven
and will advertise the fact that there was a celebrity designer or
starchitect at the building. Now, people want the price, floor plan,
size — the basics.”

Corcoran took the current no-frills method of advertising to a new level in its spring 2009 company ad campaign, which includes materials featuring stark white lettering on a black background with the tagline: “Homes that will take your breath away. Prices that will resuscitate you.”

Corcoran and Halstead Property started promoting certain properties on their Web sites as “value” listings earlier in the year.

Value is what buyers are looking for,” Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead, told The Real Deal in April.

With smaller ad budgets, developers and real estate firms can no longer afford to take advertisement risks like they have in the past, and are carefully choosing where and how to place their ads.

“You want to place your ads in certain magazines, certain Web sites, rather than cast a wide net. Every dollar spent on ads should be spent to produce specific traffic and you should see the results,” said Benchmark’s Aaron. “In the past, it was all about spending money and creating buzz; now it’s all about convincing the buyer of the quality of your product.”