PROCESS OF CREATING GREAT ADS GETTING TO BE TOO DARNED HARD

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Advertising is getting to be a very difficult process. I discern a consensus that it's not worth the trouble.

"Clients trust agencies less and themselves not at all," agency chief Gad Romann told me a few months ago. "When the CFO asks marketing to justify a $50 million ad expenditure, the guy begins to stutter."

Later, Gad sent me a copy of an article in Business Week about stealth ad campaigns, where it was hard to figure out who the advertiser was. Gad was quoted as saying: "Anything that triggers attention is worth a try."

Try getting that approach past a CFO, Gad!

Mike Hughes, creative director of the Martin Agency in Richmond, thinks that part of the problem is that "agency people are losing their ability to control the development of advertising campaigns," just like architects rarely control major building projects anymore. And agencies, Mike adds, aren't structuring their processes to work "dynamically or efficiently" with client organizations.

I got a letter the other day from Tom Eppes, the president of Price/McNabb in Charlotte. Tom's agency has converted itself to an integrated marketing communications agency. The idea is to create different messages for different constituencies, using whatever medium works most efficiently, while at the same time building a consistent overall brand image. No easy assignment.

But even this more logical and comprehensive approach is not without problems. Tom says clients "simply didn't think they had the time, energy or money to go the whole way"-the Too Much Trouble syndrome. And he adds that "a continuing challenge is the natural tendency of many marketers to avoid anything that appears too new or too different. In their minds, that translates to risk, and most are very risk-averse."

Maybe the major obstacle to effective communications is that the whole damn process is just too hard. It's easy to turn out entertaining ads or ads that hide what's being sold; it's hard to create entertaining advertising that has "strategic underpinnings," as Al Ries wrote me. "I find it fascinating that in the great debate about `creative differences' many people raise the ghost of Bill Bernbach in their defense of `highly creative' campaigns.

"They wheel in Volkswagen, Avis, Federal Express and other campaigns as proof of their thesis that memorable advertising works. Unfortunately, they leave out the fact that all these programs were strategically sound," Al says.

I get the feeling that both agencies and advertisers are throwing in the towel and reverting to what they both feel more comfortable with-face-to-face selling.

I've been amazed at our company that many of our advertisers seem to value sponsorship of special events, where we bring together their important and key customers, over traditional advertising in the pages of our publications.

This impression was confirmed by a panel of agency and advertiser executives we invited to speak at our annual publishers meeting last week outside of Detroit.

Rick Segal, managing director of Hensley Segal Rentschler, Cincinnati, put it this way: "A number of our clients look at value added as value centric. It's icing on the cake they get six to 12 pages" of advertising along with the opportunity to sponsor events. And as Mike Butcher of Dow Chemical said, he's looking for situations to "advance relationships." What else can you do, he asked, to "connect me with networking opportunities?"

Mr. Segal quoted Calvin Coolidge as saying that "advertising is the spiritual side of enterprise." It works, he said, "in mysterious ways."

My thesis for today, ladies and gentlemen, is that more and more advertisers are opting to take the mystery out of the process by going back to good old-fashioned selling. And advertising has been delegated to icing on the cake status.

Mr. Segal also invoked the name of a furniture store guy named Kash Amburgy-whose slogan was: "If Kash don't sell, Kash don't eat." That's a pretty good summary of today's emerging marketing philosophy.

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