Agencies aren't yet dinosaurs of ad world, says Rosenshine

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While i was in London the other week at the International Advertising Association's conference, Prime Minister Tony Blair got himself into a bit of a dust-up.

A speech he gave to the venerable Women's Institute was so blatantly political the ladies heckled and slow hand-clapped the PM, and generally made clear they didn't appreciate his rather generous claims for the accomplishments of his Labour government.

A leaked memo from a trusted Blair adviser warned private polls showed the PM was "not believed to be real. He lacks conviction; he is all spin and presentation; he just says things to please people not because he believes them."

It was enough to make the group of international ad executives feel right at home. A countertheme at the conference was whether the wonders of the World Wide Web were falling prey to the same excesses ascribed to Mr. Blair.

There was much talk of how the Internet has brought the end of "the lazy customer" and of wasted media dollars, how it's broken down walls between technology and creativity, generally changed human nature and ushered in a golden age of marketing.

Revolution is not a big enough word to describe the Internet's wonders, said Bob Schmetterer, the head of Euro RSCG. The problem is agency creatives still cling to their TV reel "to get new jobs and to create personal value."

Mr. Schmetterer believes "we should be in the midst of a new creative revolution -- a new definition of creativity. But we are not.

"We should be awarding and valuing creativity not based on `reels' of work, but on brilliance of creative business ideas that transcend advertising," he said.

Like the Women's Institute ladies, Allen Rosenshine took a more skeptical view. He did not heckle or slow clap, but you came away with the idea the head of BBDO Worldwide thought the Internet had gotten caught up in the same spin that bedevils Mr. Blair.

"What I cannot understand," Mr. Rosenshine proclaimed, "is the marketing and advertising community itself declaring ourselves to be the dinosaurs of a dying communications world in which our only hope of survival is to stop doing what we have been doing with considerable success, and start doing everything differently. And, oh yes, doing it faster as well."

The BBDO chief recalled it was six years ago when Procter & Gamble "delivered a shot heard 'round the advertising world:" TV was changing "big time," and there was no assurance advertising would ever be carried on many or even most shows in the future.

What's happened is far less cataclysmic. U.S. TV advertising increased by 51%. P&G cut back its TV spending from 90% of its ad dollars to 70%. "And incidentally, the other 30% isn't going to the new media. It's going to good old print. At P&G, spending on the new media is now all the way up to one-half of one percent of their budget," said Mr. Rosenshine.

"I'm not saying Ed Artzt" -- the P&G chief who shook the ad world -- "was wrong to challenge our industry to change. But he was wrong to talk like a Bolshevik; he should have subscribed to the theory of evolution . . . That's exactly my point in this little debate. We are changing . . . a lot faster than maybe some of us old timers can cope with. But the real world is also changing a lot more slowly than the hypsters would have believed."

On that last point, I beg to differ. While in London we received word that P&G's chairman-CEO had stepped down after more dismal earnings news. P&G's world is changing rapidly as retailers gain more clout. But P&G is having a tough time mustering the troops to respond to its new challenges.

A massive restructuring, which put global product managers ahead of country managers, caused P&G to "lose some of our instinctive feel for how the business was going," according to the company's new CEO, Alan Lafley.

The irony is that P&G's ousted leader, Durk Jager, beset by the quickening pace of today's marketplace, tried "to change too much too fast," in the words of John Pepper, who is coming out of retirement to once again become P&G chairman.

But Procter has no choice but to keep pushing ahead. On the other hand, I agree with Mr. Rosenshine that the Internet can't possibly be the answer to all their problems -- or anyone else's.

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