Advertising bull in a bear market

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When the market’s down and money’s tight, you hear a lot of terrible lies about advertising.

Advertising makes business people nervous in the best of times. In the worst of times, they’ll believe anything that allows them to cut this expense. Even these corkers:

•Â "We can’t afford to advertise." Apparently, everyone thinks ad campaigns always appear on the Super Bowl, "Friends" and "Frasier." Pish-tosh. Think print. Print campaigns in local or vertical-market media are quite economical. For a bit more, your ads can appear in targeted business pubs. Jumping up to business publications that reach the major corporate CXOs is a more serious investment. But if that’s your target audience, you can’t afford not to advertise in these publications, too.

•Â "Public relations is cheaper and more effective." Strategic public relations programs are enormously effective, but they don’t replace advertising. They work in concert with it. Combining media and analyst relations is a terrific way to achieve third-party credibility. But credibility isn’t brand, and people buy brands.

•Â "Our sales people make the sale." Sure they do, but how long does it take? Enterprise solutions providers with established brand awareness—companies such as Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. , Lucent Technologies Inc. and EDS Corp.—get to the decision-maker on Day One.

• "Excessive advertising killed the dot-coms." Please. Bad business plans, undeveloped infrastructure, lack of fulfillment and no path to profitability killed the dot-coms. That fact that some of them also spent millions creating brands they couldn’t support was just one more manifestation of the general insanity.

•Â "Ad people just want to build their creative books." You bet they do! And what builds books? Campaigns that produce clear results for clients. Creative isn’t an end in itself; it’s there to add impact and effectiveness. Ad people live for success stories. If you want to be wary of something, steer clear of hip, edgy design with no content. Advertising is messaging, not décor.

•Â "Awareness campaigns don’t achieve tangible business goals." A few years back, Nortel Networks Corp. was a less-than-stellar player in its market space. Combining John Lennon’s lyrics with standard corporate images in their "Come together" TV campaign, Nortel grabbed attention and captured mind share. Even now, with tech stocks struggling to get out of the sewer, Nortel stock stands at three times what it was three years ago.

•Â "Nobody pays any attention to advertising, anyway." This is, of course, true. Which just goes to show that the Global 2000 companies, all of whom advertise, none of whom would even for a millisecond consider not advertising, are all run by incompetent, wasteful clowns. How did any of them get to be Global 2000 companies, not to mention the colossal coincidence that all of them did?

Tom Simmons is executive creative director at Strategic Communications Group, Silver Spring, Md. He can be reached at [email protected].

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