Agencies must compete globally

The canadian Congress of Advertising, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Jan. 13-15, was created to convey a message.And that message was the following:Canadian ad agencies can and must compete in the global advertising market or they will get left behind.This...

The canadian Congress of Advertising, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Jan. 13-15, was created to convey a message.

And that message was the following:

Canadian ad agencies can and must compete in the global advertising market or they will get left behind.

This is in contrast to the results of the Congress’ own study that showed the industry to be more concerned about effectiveness and competitiveness.

As it turned out, there seemed to be two shows in motion at the conference, which debuted this year with plans to meet every two years.

One was a well-packaged piece of propaganda for getting on the global bandwagon.

The other was a scrappy bazaar with a mixed bunch talking about the marketing revolution and the need for major change.

The global advertising segments book-ended the conference.

The first two presentations, from Unilever and Coca-Cola, were largely ‘feel-good’ advertisements for commitment to brand advertising and building brand equity.

Each, though, made it clear advertising will become more global, and that Canada must ‘compete on the world stage.’

In the final segment of the conference (‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’) Tony Miller, president of Lintas, New York, and an originator of the conference, raised a ‘call to arms for visibility in the global communications market.’

Miller asked his audience to deliver ‘a message to your colleagues to turn more of their attention to exploiting global opportunities.’

In global advertising parlance, ‘good ideas travel.’ In this session, each speaker showed a reel of Canadian-originated advertising to reassure us that ‘we can do it.’

Difficult

It was agreed that while this could be done, it would nevertheless be difficult.

But as Peter Mills, based at bbdo in Detroit, said: there is no alternative.

Not so, apparently. A video of interviews encouraged the best talent to leave Canada.

As Larry Dare of Procter & Gamble said (I believe, from Tokyo), we could ‘exploit Canadians’ opportunities to leave the country.’

For those not ready to do this, there was a panel to answer the question, ‘How can you influence the global decision-maker?’

Three of the five did not make any serious attempt to answer the question. Which I think answered the question.

The president of Gillette Canada told the impressive story of his company’s highly centralized, monolithic global campaign.

When asked what input, if any, Canadians had in it, he said he did not know. Later, he suggested the significant amount of money Gillette spent on co-op advertising in this country could be something for a Canadian agency to get its teeth into.

The two panelists who addressed the question head-on were Liz Torlee and Ian Saville.

They gave thoughtful answers which amounted to ‘do the best work you can for your local client.’

As to how to do that, there were an impressive number of speakers who brought new ideas and new perspectives. People who, I believe, gave some value to the event.

Jolt

Joe Cappo, senior vice-president – publishing director of Advertising Age, played Jolt cola to Peter Seely’s Coke.

Cappo railed at ‘stick-in-the-mud’ and ‘so-called’ full-service ad agencies which, he claimed, were in danger of ‘sinking into irrelevance’ if they do not take part in the consumer ‘revolution.’

He urged agencies to embrace database marketing, create their own proprietary databases, and become co-ordinators of integrated marketing.

Cappo pointed out the danger to traditional agencies of Coca-Cola’s use of Hollywood talent agents caa to create commercials in competition with McCann-Erickson Advertising.

Peter Seeley, on the other hand, put up a slide with the logos of Coca-Cola, Interpublic and caa, and made reference to a ‘stimulating and rewarding relationship.’

I liked Cappo’s speech.

In fact, I liked it the first time I read it in the Dec. 7, 1992 issue of Advertising Age. Its title was ‘Agencies: change or die. Huge marketing revolution upsets old rules.’ (For the $1,000 admission fee, I would have hoped for a little more.)

‘Wake-up call’

Michael Pearce, from the University of Western Ontario in London, was one of several speakers to give the Canadian ad industry what he called a ‘wake-up call.’

Pearce, in his presentation called ‘What problems do you think the industry needs to fix?,’ made the point that not enough was being done to measure the effectiveness of advertising, even though adequate tools for doing so exist.

The Canadian Media Directors Council did an excellent job of unveiling the first research tool to predict awarness – a key measure of communications effectiveness.

The Cassies ‘effectiveness awards’ show was billed as a step towards a more organized and documented demonstration that advertising works.

The need, however, is not just for proof, but a new and better understanding.

Jack Cronin, formerly of J. Walter Thompson Canada and Worldwide, put it more bluntly.

Cronin claimed ad people are living in a ‘black hole of ignorance’ and ‘lack objective knowledge about what works.’

His rollicking speech pushed the industry to ‘re-invent itself’ and become consumer experts (wonks, in Clintonese.)

Skip Andrew, executive director of the National Centre for Database Marketing in California, explained in graphic terms just what the power of building one-on-one relationships with consumers can do.

Will not forget

For me this was a ‘wake up’ call I needed and will not forget.

The need to communicate with individuals, not mass markets, was also the underlying theme of the most intelligent and thought-provoking talk on global advertising.

Made by Lintas Worldwide’s Barry Day, it was really a speech about effective communication in general – communication which talks to people as if they were individuals, not a market segment.

The two great forces in advertising today – global advertising and database marketing – are heading toward the same goal.

For me, the ‘wake-up’ call of the conference had to be Andre Chagnon’s presentation of Groupe Videotron and tva’s interactive tv.

Everyone in the industry needs to understand what is going on in this world of technological marvels.

Just one example of what can be done is the ability to let consumers select the type of commercials they want to see, from four alternatives.

In a test conducted on the 1992 Summer Olympics programming, prospective car-buyers could select the type of car in which they were interested (compact, luxury, etc.) and then see the appropriate Ford model advertised.

Even more spooky, viewers could select one of four Labatt commercials depending on their mood.

For example, if they felt romantic, they could select a romantic Labatt commercial. Day-after recall for the four commercials was 41% higher than average for normal scheduling.

I am not a big supporter of dars, but I am a big supporter of 41%.

Speaking of Labatt Breweries of Canada, I must comment on President Hugo Powell’s address during the panel on ‘How to organize for better advertising.’

‘Blunt message’

A speech which The Financial Times of Canada called a ‘blunt message to agencies.’

The essence of Powell’s speech was that the Canadian ad industry is in trouble, and that one requirement for better advertising is for clients and agencies to deal, together, with the fact that agencies need a new cost structure and a new attitude.

Powell decried the great amount of money wasted on people and processes that make little or no difference to business performance.

And he urged a revolution of ideas to reallocate this money and invest it in new people, new skills and higher agency profits.

Rupert Brendon, chairing the panel, introduced Powell’s remarks as ‘not what he’d expected’ and ‘controversial.’

When Powell finished, Brendon turned to Yong Quek, president of Procter & Gamble and appeared to expect a rebuttal.

Surprising some, Quek said Powell’s speech was ‘important’ and added the points made in it were valid.

Not facing issue

When Powell asked me to help craft his message [Labatt is one of Kelly's clients], what we both concluded was that the Canadian advertising industry (clients and agencies) is facing a critical issue that it really is not facing up to.

That getting it out in the open and publicly on the industry’s agenda could help the problems get solved before they are unsolvable.

Sidestep

And that an important event like the Canadian Congress of Advertising ought not sidestep an issue of this magnitude.

Nobody is kidding anybody anymore. Serious problems exist for agencies not only in Canada but everywhere.

These problems – in the view of many – will not be solved by hoping Canadian advertising skills can play on the global stage, excellent though these skills may be.

Powell stepped up to the challenge and told its truth, much as a doctor would before surgery.

He did not blame anyone. He just asked that problems be thought about, talked about, then perhaps solved.

Having listened to the speakers at the conference, I, now, more than ever, agree with the view that the Canadian industry must confront the need to take millions out of its cost structure.

Canadian costs must match up to the sustainable Canadian revenue base.

Inroads

If that revenue base can be increased by making inroads into global advertising, or by persuading advertisers in Canada to spend more money on advertising, that would be terrific. For all of us.

If this does happen, it will be a slow and long-term process.

But aren’t we, as an industry, in danger of replacing one form of denial with another? Maybe we should be mindful of Voltaire’s definition of optimism:

‘One day everything will be well, that is our hope.

Everything is fine today, that is our illusion.