FORECAST '97: NEWS APLENTY : NARC BLINKS

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In our last issue of 1996, we recapped the year in advertising, marketing and media. With this first issue of 1997, we look ahead expectantly to another exciting 12 months-if only so we'll have material to fill the pages of our next year-in-review issue.

Because marketing trends overlap calendar years, many stories to keep an eye on in 1997 are already emerging. Add our predictions to the mix to get a list of marketing hot spots for the new year.

Creative solutions. Business realities will continue to drive smaller independent agencies into the arms of their bigger brethren. But Fallon McElligott (with United Airlines) and Suissa Miller (with Acura automobiles), among others, proved last year that the ability to create great advertising still beats size and global reach any day. Also, look for more clients to split accounts among agencies as marketers hunt the best possible creative resources for their brands.

A drink and a smoke. While cigars and martinis will remain cool this year, liquor and tobacco marketers will feel more unwelcome heat. Buoyed by a sales volume increase in 1996, spirits marketers will probably be more aggressive with plans to advertise on electronic media. That, in turn, is likely to lead critics to turn up the pressure on TV and radio stations-and lawmakers. The tobacco marketing issue will also come to a head, with the first court hearing scheduled for February on Food & Drug Administration rules set to take effect in August.

More new-media madness. The hype and activity surrounding new media will continue unabated. But this year the Internet will make big strides in its emergence as a viable marketing platform. Standards are being developed, specific budgets set aside and realistic goals set. Nissan Motor Co. this summer will begin selling cars on the Net, and more automakers will surely follow.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t. Marketing disciplines condescendingly dubbed "below-the-line" continue to grow and are held in high regard by a growing number of agency CEOs. Look no further than new Omnicom CEO John Wren, who cut his teeth at its fast-growing Diversified Agency Services unit, or McCann-Erickson Worldwide Chairman-CEO John Dooner, who continues to open new communications "corridors."

It happened so quickly some ad people may soon forget that the industry's National Advertising Review Council even thought about a self-regulation program for the advertising of "age-restricted" products. The idea was written off last month at the very first NARC meeting called to examine it.

That decision was hasty; this proposal deserves more detailed consideration. We're not surprised it is not universally welcome. The Beer Institute, for example, flatly declared it wants no part of any plan that lumps its products with hard liquor or (horrors!) cigarettes. The tobacco, liquor, beer and wine industries point to their own industry association codes that cover marketing and youths.

In our view, however, none can generate the credibility offered by the general ad industry's NARC-supported organizations, the Council of Better Business Bureaus' NAD and the National Advertising Review Board. Moreover, why couldn't a NARC-supported code offer different guidelines for different industries? Rather than a single age-appropriate code, perhaps there are basic rules, with variants depending on industry. That way, tobacco, beer and liquor can each work out a system appropriate to their markets, and not use this as an excuse to derail the whole idea of NARC self-regulation of advertising to minors.

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