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We all know that exceptional brands create exceptional asset value for their owners.

Is there any doubt that the $15 billion at which the stock market values Nike is mostly a matter of the intangible value of that brand? If that's not impressive enough, how about IBM's $200 billion of market cap? At the bottom line, these brands are their companies' largest assets.

So it is for most companies, from FMCGto SMHE (slow-moving heavy equipment).

And even in the brave-to-the-point-of-reckless new world of dot-coms, the brand will prove to be the essential market anchor. To survive, a dot-com will need to go beyond a crazed Super Bowl spot that shows off its name (and not much else) to manic online gamblers. Sooner, rather than later, dot-coms will need to become brands that relate to their users.

As sheer numbers and investor greed turn them into a commodity, they will have to define themselves to compete.

Regardless of the category of goods or services and the new technologies that offer new levels of information and new models of distribution, consumers will still make selections based on how a product fits into their lives, both rationally and emotionally. And that's a pretty good definition of a brand. By creating personal value for the consumer, a brand creates asset value for the client.

Whatever else dies, branding lives.

So for the advertising agency business as we know it today, there's good news and not-so-good news. The good news is that since the need for brands will survive, so will we. That is our expertise.

It is our job to understand the relationship of products to people's lives, how they think and feel about our clients' products and how best to communicate the relevance of those products to create competitive value. We should be doing that better than anyone else, especially the consultants (who shouldn't really be threatening to us for that very reason).

And given that understanding, advertising agencies should continue to be the source of the creativity that turns brand strategy into consumer communications, regardless of the medium.

There is no doubt the Internet is the most powerful new medium in history, and it will continue to make possible greater efficiency and effectiveness in targeting and reaching audiences. And indeed, through technological convergence, it will unify the delivery of brand messages from all communications disciplines. But there should also be no doubt that it will still take traditional agency creativity to make these messages a compelling brand experience -- which is what brand communications must do.

At BBDO Worldwide, we go so far as to say that the three most important things we do are the work, the work and the work. In the absence of great work, nothing else matters. That is why we think we'll be around for some time to come.

The not-so-good nn is there's a problem. That is, everything else is changing. For agencies to continue to be the key source of brand strategy and messaging, we have to be media neutral in our planning and capable of coordinating and executing creatively in any channel of communication.

As we build our clients' brands in the next millennium, we must provide convergence at the strategic planning level of product and design, mass and interactive advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion, packaging, point-of-purchase display, PR, infomediaries in one-to-one marketing, and all other yet-to-be developed forms of brand intelligence and communications.

Just owning some or all of these resources is not enough. We'll need to bring these capabilities to our clients as a strategic tabula rasa with the only imperative being: Maximize the effectiveness of a given budget in building their brands. (I am of course assuming that the new millennium will not bring us any change in the shortsightedness of marketing budgets and the likelihood that they will be less at the end of any fiscal year than at the beginning.)

We must change the way we think and work to enable us to create and coordinate great work in all the channels and disciplines on this new playing field. If we do not, we will deserve the fate of the dinosaurs that so many of the new techies have so gleefully predicted for us.

So at the end of the day (or the millennium), amid all this change our basic job of creating great brand building will still be the same. And just as critical to our clients. The marketing business will still be about brands. And to paraphrase a line from "The Godfather," brands are the business we have chosen.

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