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My Labour Day weekend reading was diverse - James Thurber's dogs, Carl Hiaasen's seamy Miami scene - but two books in the pile had something in common. Both had a pretty pessimistic P.O.V. on advertising.

My Labour Day weekend reading was diverse – James Thurber’s dogs, Carl Hiaasen’s seamy Miami scene – but two books in the pile had something in common. Both had a pretty pessimistic P.O.V. on advertising.

e, a novel by Matt Beaumont, depicts the inner machinations of a U.K. ad agency by unfolding the sordid tale of a Coke pitch through a series of LOL office e-mail. It does little to advance the stature of ad folk as trusted professionals, but it is dead funny. Meanwhile, The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR, by Al and Laura Ries, points out that there isn’t that far for reputations to fall, as a recent Gallup poll pegs the percentage who perceive advertising practitioners as honest at 10%, just 1% ahead of car salesmen. It is not funny.

As usual, Ries takes a contrary notion (at least for ad folk), and presents a pretty forcefully factual argument to back up his thesis. In a nutshell, the father and daughter duo writes that today the balance of brand-building power has shifted to PR, and that advertising’s role is to defend brands once built, citing Starbucks, The Body Shop, Amazon.com, Yahoo!, eBay, Palm, Google, etc. As per Ries findings: ‘most companies spend way too much money trying to build brands with advertising (when they should be using that money for PR) and way too little money defending their brands with advertising after they have been built.’

They accuse advertising of being ‘the weak link.’

‘Advertising has lost its power to put a new brand name into the mind. Advertising has no credibility with consumers who are increasingly skeptical of its claims….’

The Rieses write of clients who have nixed launches due to the cost of advertising a new consumer product in the U.S., for which a budget of $50 million is described as modest, citing competition such as Pepsi-Cola spending $100 million to launch Pepsi One. The Rieses tie this to the preponderance of line extensions (nine out of 10 new products are line extensions) rather than new brand creation. They argue that advertising is inherently the wrong marketing tool to woo consumers to a new brand because the credibility needs to be established first, and that is a job for publicity, because people believe what they read in the press. Beyond the theoretical argument, Ries addressses R.O.I., trotting out figures on the rise of advertising volume (and costs) and decreased effectiveness, ‘the wallpaper effect’.

This, the Ries believe, influences who marketers turn to for strategic advice, such as consultants, over agencies. As back-up, they cite a Patrick Marketing Group study of senior marketing execs which found only 3% delegated brand identity responsibility to their ad agencies; and an American Advertising Federation survey asking 1,800 execs which functions were key to their company’s success revealed that PR (at 16%) was more highly regarded than advertising (10%).

A nasty blow to ad creativity is also delivered. ‘Creativity is the last thing a brand needs once a brand has been established in the mind.’ The quest for new and different is not a defensive strategy, and the Rieses say advertising should ‘reaffirm the brand’s core values’ and ‘resonate with consumers.’ I’m sure some eyebrows are meeting hairlines over that notion, but they do go on to say that creativity is not all bad, it’s just the PR that needs to be original.

I’ve bought new products motivated by both PR and advertising. Sure, some are line extensions, but the fact that the Zero name was on the dark clothes detergent did not instil extra faith and sway my intent to purchase. I just thought it was a cool product idea.

And while it’s true that people would accept what they read in the media with less skepticism than the claims of an ad, it’s true because gatekeepers make sure that what’s in the newspaper is valid and newsworthy. And there are tons of new brands that would not seem likely candidates to remotely generate enough (if any) press to gain awareness no matter how much PR wattage was turned on.

In fact, unless the product is utterly amazing (Starbucks vanilla lattés) or some newfangled category, I would think many of the reasons cited for advertising not breaking through would also affect PR potential.

And here we come to the most crucial nugget; when the Rieses address the question of how to launch a brand with no publicity potential, the answer is: you don’t. ‘If you can’t win the media battle, you can’t win the marketing battle.’

Read the book, there’s a ton of thought-provoking ideas in there (and a lot of interesting budget figures).

Then, when you need a brain vacation, read e. I feel I’ve given e short shrift, so here’s a taste of the wisdom contained therein; it’s the reply from the Finland branch’s CEO to an e-mail unintentionally forwarded from the U.K. agency’s boss (all his e-mail is inadvertently copied to Finland) about ad agency personnel’s berserk behaviour.

from: pertti_vanhelden@millershanks-helsinki.co.fi

to: david-crutton@millershanks-london.co.uk

It is fascinating me that you, too have trouble with work hands going off the straight and perpendicular. Perhaps it is our sunless winters or our proximity to the vodka distilleries of the former Soviet Union, but we in Finland are having a similar problem with many company members becoming ‘one picnic hamper short of a luncheon box’!

I have a tip for you. I am employing the revolutionary techniques pioneered by Dr. Jari Nepstad at the Nordic Institute of Animal Husbandry. These are involving giving staff a daily tonic concocted of the extract of lemming spleen and reindeer urine. As a result I am seeing insanity rates falling by 18%. I mail the recipe to you, though maybe you find lemming spleen in short supply at your otherwise excellent Asian corner shops. Keep you pecker firm and erect – Pertti

Actually, there’s some fascinating Machiavellian job jockeying that goes on in that novel that might be quite illuminating, in a things-to-watch-out for vein. Besides, after The Fall of Advertising you will need cheering up.

* * *

Well, as the Lay’s chip-stealing monkey ad reminds us, it’s back to school. Alas, we’ve lost our publisher to York. As she was heading off soon for mat leave anyway, it’s not like we could talk her out of it, but Nicole London will be greatly missed by all here at Brunico, for her consummate professionalism, uncanny insight and grounded perspective. As you will see from all the appointment notices, there is more movement afoot, with the promotion of Duncan Hood to Strategy associate editor and editor of Strategy Media (launching next issue!), while welcoming Kristen Vinakmens to the writing team and introducing Sara Minogue, who comes aboard as associate special reports editor.

P.S. Advertising does so work – I want a monkey!

cheers, mm

Mary Maddever

Strategy Editor