It’s the advertising, stupid

David Harrison is president of Toronto media planning and buying company Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell.Let me be perfectly clear.Relationship marketing, drtv, kiosks, database and all the other response-related additions to our marketing arsenal are, or will be, useful, measurable and...

David Harrison is president of Toronto media planning and buying company Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell.

Let me be perfectly clear.

Relationship marketing, drtv, kiosks, database and all the other response-related additions to our marketing arsenal are, or will be, useful, measurable and vital new ways to reach an increasingly complicated marketplace.

As an early adopter, I welcome, and eagerly await, them all.

However, the continuing core of everything that we, and our colleagues at the creative agencies, hope to achieve for our clients must be the task of building and nurturing a brand or product franchise, as well as amplifying the underlying imagery which propels or supports customers to act.

This is known as advertising.

The new marketing techniques will work best when used in conjunction with classic advertising. Interactivity will still require the push that comes from strong brand identity. Nothing beats a really good advertising campaign for reaching consumers quickly and efficiently.

So, why does it seem that advertising practitioners have lost confidence in their ability to conjure up compelling imagery and, perhaps worse, why have so many lost the belief that it actually works?

Advertising is the very blood of all our businesses, be we the media, advertising agents, media buyers or our clients. Advertising is what gives us life. Without it the presses stop, stations fade to black, consumers lack the energetic motivation to open up their wallets.

There is a palpable, free-floating anxiety in the marketing air. We are becoming paralyzed by the notion that just because we might someday live in, and even understand, the 500 channel, cd-rom’ed, fibre-optic’ed world, so much discussed in recent months, that by continuing to use the ever evolving mass media is a fool’s game and should only be used as a last resort.

We eschew fragmentation because it denotes chaos but we embrace segmentation as it seems to offer contemporary evolution. Were we to think about media as segmented perhaps there would be much less anxiety in our marketing world.

Yes, the mass media have less ubiquity and people lead ever busier lives – but, when a clever, intrusive advertising campaign hits, it really is remarkable how quickly the audience gets it.

Consider the beer business, Ice last year or Red Dog this year. What further evidence do even the most cynical ad-bashers need to prove that advertising does move people, and sell product?

In an attempt to imbue our world with the fantastic tools available through computer design, video toasters and the like, we seem to have created an odd generation of commercials which indicate the victory of form over content. Edgy, mtv-style, close-cut, fast-paced and overly produced television commercials have emerged at the expense of more traditional commercials with a great central idea or theme.

Personally, I long for an Alka-Seltzer spot – (believe me, I’ll watch the whole thing!). My strong sense is that we should slow down and simplify our messages (and it’s not just my age) and make sure they have a memorable line built in, or an anthem for people to recite. In other words, a reason for customers or prospects to believe.

Unless we start connecting with the next generation of consumers through consistent, brand-centered advertising, today’s leading products will be tomorrow’s faded memories.

The retail juggernauts will continue to do all they can to dissuade product manufacturers from maintaining independent communication with customers. The President’s Choice phenomenon has been discussed ad nauseam, but the fact remains the marketers behind those products have built an image for their brands while cleverly ensuring that competing manufacturers are starved for advertising support by forcing margin reductions or charging a tax for the privilege of being on their shelves.

An example of a product that will likely squander its heritage and market position by failing to advertise is Heinz Ketchup. Yes, it has momentum, product superiority and a huge share of the market. But, by not advertising, this positioning advantage will fade away over time and younger consumers will have no particular reason to buy Heinz over their private label competitors.

Sadly, client organizations have lost much of their advertising memory. The current product management generation grew up in a marketing environment where retail relationships, promotions and trade deals have all been more important than the implementation of consistent, effective media advertising. And of course, there are few advertising managers any more.

As an industry, advertising agencies have done little of significance to proselytize the case for advertising. Agencies seem pretty well shell-shocked after all the plagues visited upon them through the last decade – client and agency mergers, retail domination, computers, the recession, downsizing, right-sizing, re-engineering and, God knows, media buyers like ourselves.

However, the pendulum can swing and it was heartening to hear that the Leo Burnett agency presented an analysis at this year’s Cannes festival which demonstrates that award-winning advertising generates greater sales. Imagine, not only does advertising work but really good advertising works even better! Those in the agency business should know this instinctively.

Recently, there have been encouraging signs that client companies including Ford, p&g, Bell, Campbell’s Soup and Pillsbury intend to significantly increase their media advertising budgets. There is much trade talk about the need for manufacturers to cut promotional trade allowances and gain back marketing control. Let’s hope the talk turns into action.

All of us in the media advertising complex should stand up and enthusiastically endorse the real thing. You know, the kind of advertising that engages people, with lines they can embrace and with music they just might whistle.

So let’s charge back to the future, because in so many marketing situations the answer is obvious – it’s the advertising, stupid.