Ride ‘em cowboy

So I just about choked on my morning coffee earlier this week when that 72-point headline came into focus: 'Mounties charge Guité.'

So I just about choked on my morning coffee earlier this week when that 72-point headline came into focus: ‘Mounties charge Guité.’

I wasn’t so much shocked by the news that they’d pressed charges, it was that outfit Chuck had on: A dark lavender shirt, suede cowboy vest and hat to match. It instantly conjured up images of Guité riding through the streets of Montreal on his trusty steed, the pounding hooves of black stallions carrying Mounted Police in hot pursuit.

After I shook off that strange vision, I noticed that Jean Brault, president of Groupaction Marketing, was also facing six fraud-related charges – and my heart sank.

It’s not that I feel sorry for Brault, though many pundits suggest the charges were timed to quench the parliamentary inquiry into the sponsorship scandal so Paul Martin can get on with the election. My heart sank because even if he is proven innocent, the fact that fraud charges have been laid against the president of a Canadian ad agency is not going to be easily forgotten.

You can talk about a ‘few bad apples’ all you want (amazing how often that phrase comes up these days), but as Al Ries, one of the fathers of brand positioning, once told me, people have to keep a lot of information in their heads these days, so each brand only gets room for one simple idea. And I’m afraid the one idea getting the most play in the mental slot for ‘advertising agency’ is ‘criminal.’

I’m not fond of people who smugly scold from upon high, so I’ll try not to go on about this too much, but I can humbly offer the perspective of an outside observer. And from my vantage point I can tell you that the general population now has lower regard for all agencies (as our Strategy/Decima Poll proved a couple of issues ago), and I think that lower regard will indeed seep into client-agency relationships, because clients read the paper like anyone else.

It’s probably too late now to paint an alternative picture of what agencies are all about; what’s done is done. But as Maple Leaf Foods marketer Michael Shekter points out a little to your right, agency-client relations are already getting battered by a host of factors. These include globalization, which results in frustrated Canadian marketers and even more frustrated Canadian agencies adapting ideas from the States, and the new PBR-type payment schemes, which are training clients to reduce the amount of time spent with their agencies so they can reduce their bill.

We really don’t need any trust issues on top of that.

Anyway, if all this is getting you down, you should take a peek at the first quarterly report issued in a new ongoing study commissioned by the ICA. That report found that 39% of the 270 or so marketing professionals surveyed expected an increase in their marketing budgets for 2004, while only 25% reported a decline.

Happy news, but the study, which I think is an excellent idea, makes quite a lot of hay out of this finding – perhaps too much. It still means that year over year, less than half of all marketers expect any increase at all in 2004, which, given the rampant inflation in media prices, doesn’t seem to translate into gobs of new money going to creative agencies. Especially since, as the report notes, the second-highest growth area for spending is in sales promotion (as we noted in ‘Selling to the store’ back in February), which isn’t an area that many agencies are equipped to tap into.

I was more intrigued by a comment made by Rick White, Scotiabank’s VP of brand and marketing management, in our story on the ICA report (see page 4). While Scotiabank may not be spending more money on marketing this year, the bank has decided that it has enough brochures and CRM software to last for a bit, so it will instead return to traditional media and really focus on ‘the art of marketing and advertising.’

I think they’re just the first of many marketers to realize that all the contact management planning and data mining in the world isn’t going to make consumers love you, and to me, that’s very good news indeed.