FREE AGENCY, SHORT MEMORIES IMPEDING AD PRODUCTIVITY GAINS

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I guess I shouldn't be any more, but I can't help being surprised and appalled at how little progress we've made over the years in determining the effectiveness of advertising.

Year after year at industry conferences I hear the same fervent plea for media and ad agencies to prove-one more time please-the value of the services they provide. A panel of advertisers at the Magazine Publishers of America annual conference the other week renewed the tattered call for magazine publishers to give them data on the worth of magazine ads.

Even though Kraft Foods is running 1,800 magazine ads this year and Clairol's magazine ad spending is up 60% in the last two years, and even though we were told that magazines "solidify" the brand image, panelists conceded there was "resistance to print within the brand teams" as well as on the agency side. The Clairol representative said the company was forced to develop magazine ads in-house (the ads focus on the package), and the company had to drop one print campaign because the agency couldn't come up with acceptable creative. The panelists' common plea: Help us prove your worth to our management, even though our magazine ads have been successful.

Never mind that it's really the job of advertisers to assess for themselves the effectiveness of each medium, based on its own individual marketing plan, just as it is the company's task to determine the value received from its ad agency. And never mind that the industry has churned out reams of studies purporting to show that advertising works.

The sad fact is that companies have very short institutional memories. The hardest part of business is keeping in mind what made your company successful in the first place.

It doesn't help that marketing people have turned into the equivalent of free agents, selling their services to the highest bidder. It's very difficult to remain a rabid sports fan these days because of the same kind of free agency, and it will become increasingly difficult to maintain consumer loyalty for the same reasons. After all, the same people who are sports fans also are consumers, and what they want in both roles is continuity. They are not getting it when they root for their favorite team or buy their favorite brand.

Another problem is that top management either doesn't want to or is afraid to get involved in marketing decisions. In their book, "Marketing Myths That Are Killing Business," authors Kevin Clancy and Robert Shulman flatly state: "Most chief executive officers know little about marketing, and much of what they know is wrong."

So is it any wonder that advertising efficiency is one of the major culprits holding back our economy? While corporate productivity in almost all other sectors is surging, advertising productivity lags way behind.

If we can't even agree that advertising works, how can we even begin to address some of the more subtle issues that impinge on greater effectiveness, like whether the editorial environment affects how an ad is perceived. I'd like to explore whether a TV commercial actually is less effective on a top-rated TV show because viewers are more anxious to get back to the program. And whether a print ad in a hip publication makes the ad hipper, too.

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