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VIEWPOINT;BETTER DAYS FOR BRANDS;KIDVID PUZZLE

Published on .

Procter & gamble, the nation's premier brand marketer, came to last week's Association of National Advertisers annual meeting to declare its brands are once again getting the attention and nurturing they deserve. "Brands are back in a very big way," declared ANA President-CEO John J. Sarsen Jr., setting the theme for the whole ANA meeting.

Of course, brands never did go away. It was just that many marketers treated them like commodities. Short-term promotions were rampant as some brand managers sacrificed careful brand-building for flashier bottom lines. Wolfgang Berndt, president of P&G North America, alluded to that, noting P&G is "moving back toward fewer people on our brands and, in most cases, back to one brand manager." Further, "P&G is refocusing the role of the brand manager as the primary expert on the consumer" in working with P&G's product development and marketing people.

Several decades ago, the marketing budget for a traditional grocery product was about two-thirds advertising and one-third promotion. Those percentages gradually reversed as companies looked for quick fixes to consumer fickleness, and now they seem to be changing once again. While "unmeasured media" (couponing, sales promotion, co-op ads, etc. ) was some 64% of total U.S. ad expenditures in 1993, it moved down to 56% by 1995. For the 100 Leading National Advertisers, the unmeasured portion of their budgets averaged only 42% last year.

That's encouraging, and Mr. Berndt's comments indicate America's major marketers are regaining the confidence to protect their brands with long-term strategies.

The benefits of strong brands can be enduring. As BBDO's Philip Dusenberry reminded ANA members last week, "Consumers don't abandon brands; brands abandon consumers."

The Advertising Research Foundation's Youth Research Council is undertaking a study to determine why kids are clicking off broadcast TV at an alarming rate this year. Marketers spend $600 million a year on kids TV, and they are rightly concerned about the steep audience declines.

The council may not have to look too hard to find the reasons. With the notable exception of cable TV's Nickelodeon (where ratings are up 14% for the new fall season), there's an evident dearth of quality children's programming. Parents are taking more of a gatekeeping role in screening their kids' TV usage, and many are accumulating home libraries of acceptable videotapes. With CBS' Saturday morning lineup boasting not one but two cartoons based on Jim Carrey films, is it really surprising to find that network's ratings among kids 2-to-11-years-old is down 61%?

What must be explored is where kids go when they tune out TV, and how marketers can follow them into this increasingly fragmented media universe. In addition to videotapes, kids play videogames and park in front of computers to noodle with CD-ROMs or explore the Internet. The online market in particular is emerging as a serious contender for kids' leisure time. Jupiter Communications estimates there will be four million online users under age 18 by year's end and 15 million by the year 2000.

As Don Tapscott notes in his Forum article on the opposite page, "Marketers must learn to harness the interactivity of the Net if they expect to attract the attention of young people."

For mass marketers, this may not be welcome news; but it is reality. It will require new ways of communicating with kids responsibly and effectively.

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