Advertising sells itself as AAF sets push to marketing execs

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The ad industry is turning to some of its most powerful icons, including the Sunkist orange and the Energizer bunny, to drum into corporate executives' heads the effectiveness of advertising in building brands. The campaign, from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, is aimed at shifting the view of top executives toward advertising.

A 1998 American Advertising Federation survey found that "While CEOs appreciated that advertising drove sales, they didn't have a complete and compelling understanding of its importance in building brands, market share and share value," said Wally Snyder, AAF president. "We felt we had an opportunity here to direct a campaign at CEOs to help explain [advertising's] value."

To reach them, page ads break today in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Additional executions will run in trade and business publications later as the organization gains supporters for the multiyear campaign. Although creative and media were donated, the campaign's estimated value is $12 million.

DIFFERENT ICONS

Each ad features a different brand icon, including the drum-beating rabbit created by TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., with the brand name replaced by the word "advertising." Copy text asks a question relating to the brand to reinforce the power of advertising, such as "What makes one battery more powerful than another?" Provided in the tagline is the answer: "Advertising. The way great brands get to be great brands."

The idea was born out of the notion that advertising helped build the world's most recognizable brands. "If you put your hand over the logo, you would still recognize who it was," said Randy Hughes, associate creative director at Carmichael Lynch, who was art director on the campaign. "We took their name away and it became its own argument."

Getting the role-model marketers to buy in proved more challenging. "We knew that this was the idea, but we thought no way in hell would we get people to corrupt their logo for our cause," Mr. Hughes said. This marks the first time any of these advertisers have permitted their icons to be altered by outsiders. Coca-Cola Co.'s script icon was created in 1886 and has rarely been altered, save replacing the word "drink" over the name with "Enjoy," first as a magazine stunt for the Saturday Evening Post in 1959 and then permanently in 1967, according to a spokesman.

"The fact that they are willing to stand up and make a case [for advertising] shows how much they understand value of advertising," Mr. Snyder said. It took more than a year to obtain the myriad marketing and legal approvals to make the alterations. Once Coca-Cola was in place, the other marketers signed on.

That the industry needs an image boost is surprising considering record-level ad spending in a boom economy. The nation's leading advertisers spent $73.8 billion in 1999, up 11.7% from the year earlier. But the association discovered in the '98 survey of executive attitudes toward advertising that corporate leaders don't hold advertising in the same esteem as other company functions when it comes to achieving financial and marketing goals.

The survey revealed that while these influencers believe advertising contributes to the financial growth, stability, sales success and competitive gain, they ranked it lower in strategic importance than other functions.

Indeed, only 46.4% of respondents said advertising will be more important in accomplishing their future sales and marketing goals. And while nearly three-quarters said their company needed to do more brand-building in the future, just four in 10 executives said they would significantly increase advertising for their products or services.

NOT CHANGING SOON

That mindset isn't likely to change soon, as top-tier executives with veto power over budgets are more frequently being plucked from the financial and operational ranks. In fact, 27% of the marketers surveyed said advertising would be among the first budget items cut in a sales downturn. Surprisingly, if a principal competitor sharply boosted its ad budget, about half of respondents said they would increase theirs.

The timing of the campaign is ideal. As many businesses approach their fourth quarter, budget cuts are frequently made to improve margins and share values, Mr. Snyder said.

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