IBM AND FOX UPDATE THE '60S

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First we had Ed Artzt issuing a clarion call for ad agencies to reinvent themselves by getting back into programming.

Then Rupert Murdoch showed there's still a lot of life left in traditional television by wresting key affiliates for his Fox network.

And just when most advertisers had decided they can't effectively sell consumers across the world with one message using one agency, along comes IBM to do just that.

All of a sudden the new darlings of the communications world are two of its old and decrepit mainstays, traditional over-the-air television and (gasp!) the full-service advertising agency.

I have seen the future, and it's 1960. Even Gerald Levin, the apostle of media's brand new world, sounded downright downbeat at the Four A's meeting last month when he said the information superhighway had been "largely drained of meaning." It is not going to "appear like a blinding flash of light ready to melt other media," he conceded. Quite a change from previous speeches I've heard him deliver, in which he more or less said if you're not in it you're out of it.

This is not to say that Rupert Murdoch and Louis Gerstner are right and Gerry Levin is wrong. In his remarks at the Four A's, Mr. Levin also reaffirmed his belief in print. The information superhighway, he said, "will not be a replacement medium, mass will remain."

Maybe Ed Artzt shouldn't give up on traditional television just yet. Or maybe he should acknowledge that there are other ways to build a mass audience-magazines, newspapers, outdoor and radio come to mind. At any rate, now is not the time to put all your eggs in one basket.

What got everybody in a funk these past few years is that marketers lost their faith in advertising as the way to build brands. And since the advertising business is built around building and moving brand-name merchandise, everybody suffered-and the media and ad agencies scrambled to find a new reason for their existence. And ad agencies aren't very good at doing anything but creating and placing ads, a service that seemed rather quaint for a while there.

But now the pendulum seems to be swinging back. Marketers have tried everything else and now they seem ready to rebuild their brand franchises on a long-term basis (instead of trying for a quick fix every quarter). Roy Bostock, chairman of DMB&B and outgoing chairman of the Four A's, noted that "clients are coming back to agencies looking for what we do best"-making ads that move merchandise. (Remember that old Benton & Bowles slogan, "It's not creative unless it sells.")

What the stunning developments of the last couple of weeks have reminded us is that the future probably won't be all that much different from the best part of the past. Ad agencies and the mass media were created to build trust and familiarity for brand names. And even though we're now playing on a global stage, these fundamentals should still apply.

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