Message was clear, but will it be denied?

The richly named Canadian Congress of Advertising certainly proved provocative.Key, if painful, findings were that global advertising is here to stay, that the Canadian advertising industry is in trouble, and for the media delegates, that mass media will be increasingly vulnerable...

The richly named Canadian Congress of Advertising certainly proved provocative.

Key, if painful, findings were that global advertising is here to stay, that the Canadian advertising industry is in trouble, and for the media delegates, that mass media will be increasingly vulnerable to a shrinking North American economy and the precision of direct marketing.

However, this diagnosis appeared somehow disconnected from the welcome, if perhaps misplaced, sense of self-confidence this well-orchestrated conference engendered, prompting one major advertiser delegate to wonder whether the bad news had got through.

Most telling was the consistency of message from advertiser and agency.

While exogenous variables such as reluctant and elusive consumers were duly noted, George Clements, international vice-president of J. Walter Thompson suggested the industry had been derelict in demonstrating the essential role of advertising, adding that agencies have had their heads in the sand.

Hugo Powell, president of Labatt Breweries of Canada, said he was giving the industry a wake-up call, concluding that the Canadian advertising industry was in trouble.

Commenting that his, like other industries have radically changed their corporate structures, he said it was time the advertising agency industry embraced change.

In his words, the agency was a supplier like any other, and was only valuable if it had something to offer, either knowledge, data or ideas.

Jack Cronin, a former president and ceo of J. Walter Thompson, said ad agencies had lost their essential marketing proposition of knowing more about the advertiser’s customer than the advertiser.

Cronin said ad agencies must return to this position of strength through database marketing.

To this end, he suggested the agency business needed more Bill Gateses and fewer Steven Spielbergs.

Joe Cappo, senior vice-president – publishing director of Advertising Age, suggested ad agencies must reduce their reliance on media buying as a source of revenue.

Cappo observed the media buying function was gravitating to specialized media companies and also suggested that if, as Coke appeared to have done, more companies use specialist creative resources, then there would be precious little left for the agency to do.

Powell’s observation that the agency sector had no strategy was perhaps perversely illustrated during the many discussions on global advertising.

Prophetically, these took place against the background of a week in which the Canadian magazine industry was strenuously resistinga perceived potential for the dumping of foreign culture into Canada as a result of the planned Canadian launch of Sports Illustrated.

Pointing to the increasing homogenization of the world’s consumer, a notion supported by findings of Angus Reid that English-Canadians and Americans were distressingly similar, various major advertisers confirmed that good creative ideas should travel from one country to another, being adapted for local use as required.

While advertiser and agency alike insisted Canadian agencies could compete in this arena, the economic arithmetic was brought rudely to the surface by a question on how agencies should be compensated for international use of their material.

The agency principal whose misfortune it was to receive this question was honest enough to say that agencies have not really figured this out, and that in most cases the reward was, – well, ‘prestige’.

On this basis, if Canadian agencies win, their work is run elsewhere, – ‘for prestige.’ If they lose, someone else’s work runs in Canada ‘for prestige,’ and they are out of a job.

While to the advertiser the notion of paying once for a good idea that can roll out around the world makes inescapable good sense, for Canadian ad agencies in particular and Canadian marketing departments of multi-national clients, this game of economic Russian roulette appears especially hazardous; and the case of Canadian magazines that they protect Canadian culture also rings a little hollow if most of the ads are substantially foreign..

Time will tell if this conference is successful in producing the advocated change.

Will ad agencies do more to prove that advertising works? Will there be more work done to prove the value of indigenous Canadian creative? Will agencies embrace direct marketing? Will agency compensation be rationalized? While there was some shaking of heads, the contribution of this conference in facilitating this suprisingly candid dialogue cannot be underestimated.

I hope it will be further encouraged rather than ignored, or suppressed. Such openness can only lead to a major restoration between advertiser, agency, and the media.

As Powell pleaded: ‘Will someone please start a revolution.’Most telling was the consistency of message from advertiser and agency.

While exogenous variables such as reluctant and elusive consumers were duly noted, George Clements, international vice-president of J. Walter Thompson suggested the industry had been derelict in demonstrating the essential role of advertising, adding that agencies have had their heads in the sand.

Hugo Powell, president of Labatt Breweries of Canada, said he was giving the industry a wake-up call, concluding that the Canadian advertising industry was in trouble.

Commenting that his, like other industries have radically changed their corporate structures, he said it was time the advertising agency industry embraced change.

In his words, the agency was a supplier like any other, and was only valuable if it had something to offer, either knowledge, data or ideas.

Jack Cronin, a former president and ceo of J. Walter Thompson, said ad agencies had lost their essential marketing proposition of knowing more about the advertiser’s customer than the advertiser.

Cronin said ad agencies must return to this position of strength through database marketing.

To this end, he suggested the agency business needed more Bill Gateses and fewer Steven Spielbergs.

Joe Cappo, senior vice-president – publishing director of Advertising Age, suggested ad agencies must reduce their reliance on media buying as a source of revenue.

Cappo observed the media buying function was gravitating to specialized media companies and also suggested that if, as Coke appeared to have done, more companies use specialist creative resources, then there would be precious little left for the agency to do.

Powell’s observation that the agency sector had no strategy was perhaps perversely illustrated during the many discussions on global advertising.

Prophetically, these took place against the background of a week in which the Canadian magazine industry was strenuously resistinga perceived potential for the dumping of foreign culture into Canada as a result of the planned Canadian launch of Sports Illustrated.

Pointing to the increasing homogenization of the world’s consumer, a notion supported by findings of Angus Reid that English-Canadians and Americans were distressingly similar, various major advertisers confirmed that good creative ideas should travel from one country to another, being adapted for local use as required.

While advertiser and agency alike insisted Canadian agencies could compete in this arena, the economic arithmetic was brought rudely to the surface by a question on how agencies should be compensated for international use of their material.

The agency principal whose misfortune it was to receive this question was honest enough to say that agencies have not really figured this out, and that in most cases the reward was, – well, ‘prestige’.

On this basis, if Canadian agencies win, their work is run elsewhere, – ‘for prestige.’ If they lose, someone else’s work runs in Canada ‘for prestige,’ and they are out of a job.

While to the advertiser the notion of paying once for a good idea that can roll out around the world makes inescapable good sense, for Canadian ad agencies in particular and Canadian marketing departments of multi-national clients, this game of economic Russian roulette appears especially hazardous; and the case of Canadian magazines that they protect Canadian culture also rings a little hollow if most of the ads are substantially foreign..

Time will tell if this conference is successful in producing the advocated change.

Will ad agencies do more to prove that advertising works? Will there be more work done to prove the value of indigenous Canadian creative? Will agencies embrace direct marketing? Will agency compensation be rationalized? While there was some shaking of heads, the contribution of this conference in facilitating this suprisingly candid dialogue cannot be underestimated.

I hope it will be further encouraged rather than ignored, or suppressed. Such openness can only lead to a major restoration between advertiser, agency, and the media.

As Powell pleaded: ‘Will someone please start a revolution.’