COMING: THE MOST EXCITING ERA IN ADVERTISING HISTORY

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Jack Feuer paints a bleak picture of the future world of interactive television and the 500-channel environment. Fortunately, there are some flaws in his assumptions that may indicate we are not quite ready to consign first-rate creativity to the "garbage heap of history."

Erroneous assumption No. 1: Brand-building advertising does not sell product.

Tell that to Volkswagen, Marlboro, Levi's or Apple Computer. I suspect these folks would not have changed one iota of their communications if they were talking to consumers one on one. The objective is to sell the product by establishing over time the intrinsic values of the brand, thereby setting up the benchmark by which specific tactical offers can be measured.

Erroneous assumption No. 2: If marketers cease to need a wide net and can reach bona fide prospects through interactivity, they don't need to persuade so much.

Ask any salesman who works one-on-one with a potential customer if he's willing to toss persuasion to the wind. You know the answer. Why should interactive advertising somehow be immune to this necessity?

Erroneous assumption No. 3: "No more `1984,' no more `Bill Heater.' Anybody in the market for a personal computer or life insurance is more likely to get live on the Prodigy network to make their buying decision than rely on a broadcast network TV commercial ..."

What on earth are people going to see on Prodigy if not a commercial? If Mr. Feuer believes that all these potential customers are going to see is a dry recitation of fact, figures and tables, then where will the primary demand come from? With no "Bill Heater" to motivate them, far fewer people are going to be dialing up those rate tables.

Erroneous assumption No. 4: "When interactivists talk about creativity, they don't mean what Bill Bernbach or Helmut Krone meant or what Lee Clow and Pat Burnham mean."

How sophomoric! Bernbach, like Krone, Clow and Burnham and all of the truly talented creative people, never for one moment forgot that they were in business to sell products rather than produce film or ads as ends in themselves. They would do some of the best interactive work possible if that were the key medium.

I do agree with Mr. Feuer's overall notion that there will be changes. I think we are on the cusp of the most exciting era in the history of advertising. In a world of 500 or even infinite choices, where people hold a remote in their hand and will zap anything that is boring or irrelevant, commercials will be a lot more dependent on their entertainment value to ensure they get watched. The trick in this environment will be to marry theater with persuasive fact.

Mr. Dell'Aquila is exec VP-account services at DeWitt Media, New York.

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