Editorial: Time to hammer out the issues

Nothing would benefit the ad industry more than vigorous debate about its future.The economy appears to be shifting, after several dismal years, to a new period of growth, and the ad industry can expect to see more money flowing its way...

Nothing would benefit the ad industry more than vigorous debate about its future.

The economy appears to be shifting, after several dismal years, to a new period of growth, and the ad industry can expect to see more money flowing its way as marketers get on with the business of taking their products to the marketplace.

But if the economy is bouncing back, the ad industry as a whole seems hesitant and unsteady on its feet. This is understandable if one considers only the severe retrenchment so many stakeholder firms – agencies, media and related suppliers – have experienced. Yet the hesitancy is also rooted in the enormous change that swept the industry at the same time the economy was drifting rudderless at sea.

What advertising practitioners need to do now is take stock of the changes – of the fundamental shifts in consumer attitudes, of the proliferation of new high-tech marketing tools, of the ever increasing client focus on short-term profits – and figure out where to go from here.

In our last issue, David Harrison, president of media planning and buying firm Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell, tried to light a fire under the debate with an opinion piece encouraging the ad industry to return to its roots: ‘So let’s charge back to the future, because in so many marketing situations the answer is obvious – it’s the advertising, stupid.’

This issue, Alan Aylward, president of Forevergreen Television & Film Productions, takes dead aim at Harrison’s school of thought with a letter to the editor challenging the latter’s most fundamental assumptions.

Harrison writes: ‘Nothing beats a really good advertising campaign for reaching consumers quickly and efficiently.’

Aylward swings back: ‘The product-centred, persuasion-based tactics of short-form advertising may no longer be a serviceable scheme upon which to forge effective, relevant or sustainable rapport with alienated consumers.’

Harrison would like to see more of ‘the kind of advertising that engages people with lines they can embrace and with music they just might whistle.’

Aylward responds by saying the marketplace has changed to the point that ‘Employing clever slogans or jingles to sway informed and empowered consumers doesn’t cut it.’

Ultimately, it is hard to imagine a time when intelligent, surprising ideas would fail to cut through the clutter, but it is good to be reminded that the 1990s marketplace is more consumer-driven than ever before.

And in a consumer-driven world, advertising had better be sensitive to the needs and values of the people opening up their wallets or it might just cut through the clutter and keep on going right up into the ether.