In the competitive spirit of college basketball's annual championship tournament, The Motley Fool brings you Stock Madness 2007! Our writers are making head-to-head arguments for their chosen stocks (but not necessarily investment recommendations -- this is, after all, a game), and you'll pick the winners with your article recommendations and Motley Fool CAPS ratings. Who will win the right to cut down the net? Let's tip things off and find out!

If the markets have had you down in the dumps as of late, you're not alone. After a strong back half of 2006, we're currently down year-to-date, and down even further when you consider the peak we hit in late February. The subprime markets are rapidly unraveling, the housing industry that has been a boon for the U.S. is drying up, and Asian markets are providing their share of indigestion.

What's an investor to do? Well, for one, it might not hurt to limit your exposure to riskier stocks -- for instance, those fun, but rather expensive, solar stocks. Past that, you may want to look into investing in the type of companies that will be making that satisfying "ka-ching" sound practically regardless of how the economy is doing. While Warren Buffett likes to sip on his shares of Coke (NYSE:KO), I think the U.K.'s Unilever (NYSE:UL) (NYSE:UN) could be worth a look.

The stuff you need
When tough times hit, people tend to scale back on the goods they try to jam into their budget. The wife may have to postpone that purse that she's had her eye on, and the gentleman of the family may have to be chained to the couch to keep him away from those plasma TVs. Meanwhile, somebody may have to break it to the kids that the fun vacation may not happen this year, or that the new video console may have to wait.

What you're not going to see is somebody having second thoughts about whether they can really afford that tub of Vaseline, or wondering if the Lipton tea bags are just too much of a splurge. I'm sure there'll be some who decide that they can go with the generic soap brand instead of the Dove, but not a dramatic number. In other words, you can be pretty sure that Unilever's brands will continue to move off the shelves even if the economy does take a breather.

To be sure, I'm no believer in trying to time the market, so I wouldn't suggest selling your entire portfolio and loading it up with defensive stocks. But I do think it pays to have some exposure to stocks that can easily weather downturns -- or better yet, go up, as Unilever did from 2000 to 2003.

Much love for Diageo
On the other side of the court in this round of Stock Madness is Diageo (NYSE:DEO), the global liquor peddler that's behind names like Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, and Captain Morgan. I know what you're thinking: "If there's anything people want to do when the economy turns bad, it's drink." And I really can't disagree. Diageo is a fine company and provides much the same protection in a downturn as Unilever might. Valuation-wise, the two companies also trade at very similar multiples.

Where Unilever has the edge, though, is the fact that it is a much more diversified business, even if its products are not as sexy as Diageo's booze (unless, of course, you're talking about Unilever's Axe body spray!). Plus, with Unilever you get a kickin' 4.6% dividend just for being part of the Unilever shareholder family.

So are you ready to vote steady-Eddy Unilever into the next round? If so, simply follow this link and rank the stock "outperform" in Motley Fool CAPS. If not, vote it "underperform." Later this week, we'll tally your votes to determine which stocks will advance one step closer to the title.

Click Diageo to read the opposing article in this contest, and click here to read all of the other entries in the tourney.

Do you think you could pitch your favorite stock -- or ditch your least favorite one -- in less than 27 seconds? That's what we're doing over at Motley Fool CAPS. Check out our new stock videos.

Unilever and Diageo are Motley Fool Income Investor selections, while Coke is an Inside Value pick.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer is not wearing any Axe body spray today, but that's only because he doesn't want the ladies flocking over while he tries to write. He does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is as safe as can be, whether the economy is speeding ahead or hitting the brakes.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.