Commentary by Rance Crain


Despite Talk of Radical Change, Traditional Formats Still Rule

By Published on .

Most Popular
I always thought it was only the advertising industry that believed half of what it spent, or knew, or did was wasted -- they just didn't know which half. Then I read a New York
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

Previous Columns.
Times Magazine
article about medical progress, or lack thereof. The doctor who wrote it said that at her "white-coat ceremony," welcoming her class to med school, the dean proclaimed half of what the school teaches is wrong -- only they don't know which half.

I'll bet there are many other similar cases. From the outside, we think these professions and industries know what they're doing; from the inside, they fully realize how little they really know. Some industries, however, think they know more than they really do. That's why there seems to be a growing disconnect between what people say and how the ad industry behaves.

Total nonsense
I'm not talking about the total nonsense that masquerades as traditional ad wisdom, such as that older people's brand preferences don't change, or that the "sweeps" week in TV is representative, for buying purposes, of the rest of the schedule. Or that publishers need to send subscribers a renewal invoice rather than automatically billing them, as the cable people do.

No, what I am talking about is all we've heard lately about how the pursuit of the big selling idea is driving marketers to nontraditional ways of reaching consumers, such as product placements, special events, PR and other marketing services. "If you're only about 30-second TV commercials, you're in big trouble," said one auto marketer, sounding the alarm.

Steve Heyer, the chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Co., generated huge reaction to his call to arms at our Madison & Vine conference in Los Angeles in February. "I am describing a magnitude and urgency of change" in the old marketing model "that isn't evolutionary -- it's transformational. If the new model isn't developed, the old one will simply collapse."

Old models work
The old model, however, seems alive and well. Network TV, the very embodiment of traditional media, is stronger than ever. Some predict buyers will spend $9 billion in this year's upfront negotiations. Cable TV is also showing big gains; cable networks have done a great job of branding themselves, helping to drive up their CPMs. Cable's big rivals, magazines, have forgotten how to differentiate themselves, and their CPMs continue to fall as price-cutting threatens to turn them into a commodity buy.

Nontraditional media, including an array of marketing services, were to lead the way to a brave new marketing world -- and cushion the downturn for the ad agency holding companies. It hasn't worked that way. Some, such as PR, have been hit harder than advertising, and the move to integrated marketing has been a rocky road.

Difficult to execute and measure
A poll conducted for us by the American Marketing Association revealed integrated campaigns are difficult to execute and measure, and that it's hard for marketers to even define exactly what's being integrated. As for product placements, most marketers said they rarely use them.

Tradition dies hard. TV continues to be the safe buy, like IBM was when companies bought mainframe computers.

Some of our forward thinkers preach radical change. The reality is that forces embracing the status quo are fighting a very effective rear-guard action.

In this article: