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To borrow a phrase from the movie "Cool Hand Luke," what we seem to have here is a failure to communicate.

The IntelliQuest Technology Agency Media & Marketing Survey polled agency executives at some of the leading agencies handling technology accounts. The results were indeed fascinating and enlightening. There were, however, some disturbing findings.

This year's survey, for example, asked agencies for the average distribution of advertising dollars for their technology accounts. The answer: 72% is spent on product-specific campaigns, compared with 23% for corporate image campaigns. (Another 5% was spent on other, which frankly leaves me a bit baffled. What other kind of ad is there?)

Now you can argue the strengths and weaknesses of a product vs. company campaign if you want. What bothers me is the discrepancy between this finding and last year's IntelliQuest survey.

A series of questions was posed to marketing professionals on the client side of the equation last year that related to the split between product and corporate branding. The clear thrust of their answers was a greater emphasis on corporate brands. Consider the following findings from last year's survey:

When asked which was more important, 79% of the respondents picked corporate branding over product branding (21%).

While respondents spent 61% of their marketing budgets on product-specific advertising, they expected that to fall to 58% within two years. They expected to allocate the difference to corporate image campaigns during that time.

So one year after advertisers indicated they wanted to put more emphasis on corporate branding, three-fourths of their budgets are being spent on product ads.

There are several ways you could explain this. One would be that these were different universes, the old "comparing apples to oranges" retort. Given the finite nature of marketing budgets, however, you would never expect the view to be that different from one side of the table to the other.

Another explanation might be that agencies are pursuing their own agenda, although this doesn't seem likely either. Not only would that approach lead to short account relationships, and eventually the failure of a given agency, but agency executives also think they should be doing more branding campaigns. Fifty-two percent agree with the statement, "Clients place too much emphasis on product features and not enough on brand."

I think the discrepancy can best be explained by the fact that advertisers and their agencies simply aren't communicating effectively with each other.

Many of the top technology advertisers, trying to stretch their marketing dollar as far as possible, see product advertising as supporting the overall corporate brand.

This is how James Garrity explained Compaq Computer Corp.'s branding strategy in last year's report:

"We've done some soul searching and have concluded with some conviction that we have one brand. Our brand is Compaq. We continue to re-examine all of our sub-brands and how they fit in the grand scheme. .*.*. Pure economics drive this to a great extent. By investing primarily in the Compaq brand, we can leverage each dollar that goes into Compaq into all of our offerings."

So corporate image ads support a company's products and vice versa. Agencies, I think, take a much more black-and-white view of advertising-a product ad is a product ad.

This disparity is more than just semantics. This year's survey also found only 37% of the agency executives polled thought their opinions on branding and marketing strategy were very similar to those of their clients; a bothersome 49% said their opinions were somewhat similar.

Only somewhat similar? You would expect there to be disagreement about some of the tactical areas, such as budget, media selection and creative approach. But branding and marketing strategy is at the heart of the advertiser/agency relationship. How can advertisers and agencies expect to be successful if they seemingly don't even agree on what it is they're trying to do?

The dawning of the new age of interactive marketing communications is going to place a premium on the ability to communicate a concise and cohesive message to customers and prospects. It would seem to me, however, that before advertisers and their agencies can even hope to accomplish this, they had better improve their ability to talk with each other.

Chuck Paustian is editor of Advertising Age's BUSINESS MARKETING.

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