Now that the American Association of Advertising Agencies has issued guidelines to influence how consultants conduct agency reviews, advertisers and their advisers should be thinking hard about the role they had in helping formulate these guidelines. The answer-and the problem from all sides, it would appear-is: not much.
Unless the Four A's is content with just talking to itself, marketers and consultants will have to be brought into this discussion or little will change. Yet the association has done a significant service in highlighting problems and offering guidelines. The need for a code of conduct has become indisputable as the number of advertising consultants, and the variety of questionable practices, has multiplied.
These include, but are not limited to, searches for undisclosed clients (often regarded by agencies as fishing expeditions) and the amassing of proprietary financial information by consultants to build databases rather than inform a client's decisionmaking ability.
The Four A's bypassed dealing with other smoldering grievances, such as the conviction that some consultants play favorites among agencies, or push too hard on compensation-ignoring what is realistic just to impress the client. Seasoned agency executives know the review process is tough and competitive, and they're supposed to be capable of dealing with those types of issues.
It was smart of the Four A's to focus on a few, egregious problems. Knowledgable, professional consultants, often former agency executives themselves, have demonstrated they can be invaluable to the review process, rationalizing a decisionmaking procedure that, for clients lacking an objective eye, all too easily becomes emotional and arbitrary. For the Four A's guidelines to change real world practices, however, a real dialogue between agencies, advertisers and consultants will have to take place. So far that has not happened. Guidelines, like laws, can only work if they are enforced by all.
It will take more than a name change, to Airtran, to revive the fortunes of ValuJet Airlines. Honesty with consumers and scrupulous attention to marketing and service will determine its future.
ValuJet/AirTran must walk a business tightrope where there is no margin for error-even in advertising. For example, the wave of ads now introducing the AirTran name in ValuJet markets wisely, and honestly, acknowledges its ValuJet past. The ValuJet brand, though discarded, is hardly forgotten. Its brief life history-30 months of meteoric growth, then a tragic, preventable May 1996 crash-shook public confidence in ValuJet and other "value" airlines.
While the marketing of ValuJet was simple and price-driven in the go-go days, it now has a more complicated mission. If flyers sense low-prices-or overly rapid corporate growth plans-compromise safety and reliability, AirTran's days are numbered. That circumstance calls for, among other things, a more thoughtful hand at the advertising controls, and ValuJet management, which once left ads to a small in-house staff, is now smartly spending for outside advice and counsel-from a former Southwest Airlines ad agency, no less.
The new AirTran must convince flyers that bargain ticket prices don't mean other things that matter-safety and reliability-take a back seat; the ValuJet name is linked with those concerns in consumers' minds. Those who manage the AirTran brand still need to sell tickets, of course, but they also need to sell peace of