In the washington of the mid-1990s, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt singlehandedly put his agency on the advertising industry's watch list. As President Clinton and members of Congress consider who should succeed Mr. Hundt, marketers should ask for a chairman with a better sense of the FCC's purpose.
That purpose is not to be a government agency that judges which products are fit to advertise on TV and which are not. Even if the product is liquor. It's not to be
the government agency that grades TV shows on their content. Even if that content involves sex and violence. And it's not to be the government agency that decides the social and scientific debate over the impact of advertising on viewers and listeners.
While the FCC has long utilized its power to license stations to set public service standards for broadcasters, using that authority to "protect" viewers from truthful ads is an invitation for trouble. When an earlier FCC decided that "fairness" required TV ads for cigarettes to be "balanced" by anti-smoking messages, many applauded. What followed, however, was a string of petitions from opponents of other products seeking similar treatment . . . until the FCC abandoned the fairness idea.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Chairman Hundt muses that TV ads for beer, wine and liquor might be acceptable if only the FCC required they be balanced by anti-drinking or responsible drinking messages.
Other FCC chairmen have attacked TV-from being a "vast wasteland" to poorly serving kids. Advertising should not be immune to that scrutiny. But marketers deserve an FCC chairman who also knows which problems the FCC can constructively deal with, and which it should leave to others-no matter how frustrating that might be.
THE CHURN ERA
Account churn-the full extent and rapidity of it-has yet to be precisely quantified, but those who work at advertising agencies don't need a database to tell them the pace of reviews is progressing at breakneck, maybe even record, speed.
The American Association of Advertising Agencies, after looking into the phenomenon, recently concluded the longevity of client/agency relationships had dropped
to 5.3 years in 1996 from 7.2 years in 1984. The Four A's said the averages in its study, which covered 175 agencies and 3,700 accounts, might be skewed by the birth of new accounts from new advertisers, many of whom, such as high-tech marketers, were not around 12 years ago. However, of the dozens of accounts that have been on the move since January, many existed well before the last decade, including Montgomery Ward, Delta Airlines and GTE.
It's safe to say it's not new brands alone but a broader, inexorable change that's behind the wave of reviews. American business underwent a seismic shift in the last decade, experiencing great prosperity and then a painful recession. The economic downturn of the late 1980s and early 1990s left its mark. A generation of corporate management today is seeking real solutions and real growth after making ends meet with downsizing. Those who deliver, agencies and clients alike, get to stay on. Those who don't, are out.
What ad agencies need is not more time with clients on the golf links or at the dinner table, but a persuasive method of quantifying results to prove they're delivering what businesses need. And if they're not doing that today, then they should at least have the the foresight to suggest a change in approach themselves.