DOLLAR AND A DASHED DREAM

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Grey advertising's surprise victory over incumbent DDB Needham Worldwide in the recent New York State Lottery review has some discouraging overtones. Not to denigrate Grey's pitch, but the observation that the account switched hands largely on the basis of cost can be interpreted to mean that creating an identity and brand message for a product or service has been relegated to commodity status.

Citing an undisclosed savings proposal from Grey, the lottery estimated the agency could save it less than a million dollars a year over the course of the three-year contract. It's almost as if Grey took the lottery aside and said, "Ads? Slogans? Sure, we can do 'em, and we'll do 'em for less!"

No one is denying that any responsible marketer, particularly a government agency funded with taxpayer dollars, should consider ways to save money. To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, a million here, a million there and soon you're talking about real money.

But when you consider that over the past decade DDB Needham has produced some of the best lottery advertising in the U.S. for this brand (The "Hey, you never know" tag is part of pop culture), and done it under the shifting strategic goals typical of any institution influenced by politics, dropping a proven campaign and agency for a cheaper alternative is a risky move.

The feel-good humor of DDB Needham's lottery ads, coupled with their dead-on strategic thinking, created a fine example of an agency doing its job well, and it paid off for the lottery. To be rewarded with walking papers has to hurt even more than missing out on a fat pick-six jackpot by one number.M

Tech, tock

Spending on u.s. tech print ads zipped up 12% in the first half of the year, according to the page counters at Adscope, and computer ads on TV and the Web are growing strongly. But watch out. The heady times in tech have gone on for most of the decade, enriching media and agencies as computers have gone mainstream. Yet there are so many cautionary signs of factors that could derail the tech boom.

Technology companies are cutting jobs, cutting overall costs and struggling with slowing growth, overcapacity and sagging stock prices. Amid general unease about prospects for the economy, there's especially good reason to be, well, cautiously pessimistic about technology in the near term.

The next year will test tech companies that launched ubiquitous (and often interchangeable) TV and print brand campaigns. Will an outfit like disk-drive giant Seagate Technology really stick with its high-concept TV campaign for the long haul now that the board has ousted its CEO-founder? In tougher times, will many tech companies give up their supposedly religious belief in "branding," slash spending and revert to ads designed to quickly move product?

If Silicon Valley hunkers down, sellers of TV time and business and consumer press space could see a good portion of their tech riches slide down the drain. Merrill Lynch's Lauren Rich Fine makes the case that computer magazines could take back some market share from more mainstream media in slower times.

Apple's iMac launch recalls memories of the original Mac launch in 1984. But that, in turn, revives memories of how spending by the top 10 computer advertisers peaked that year, plummeted in 1985 and didn't fully recover till this decade. Tech advertising runs in cycles, and the current cycle may be ending.

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