Letters, January 11, 2010

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Ad agencies need some new thinking

RE: "Planning Your Next Move in Adland" (AA, Jan. 4). I wish agencies would get over themselves. This far into the business cycle of media, and agencies still think their product is a "wanted" specialty? Too bad everyone else views it as a "needed" commodity.

In my opinion, after many years of agency output, that output is widely regarded as a commodity with all of the benefits and problems that come along with that word. For an agency to think itself still "special" largely does not work anymore and refuses to consider how others view the industry.

Among the people that count (clients and viewers), so much of what the agencies actually produce is not new and fresh anymore. It is no longer viewed as "special" (e.g., low-volume, hard to find).

Instead, it is accepted largely as a high-volume, common, everyday, everywhere object. A mature part of the culture and landscape, like a freeway or a garbage can. Consequently it has a low value attached to it. Which makes it a "need," not a "want." Which puts it as a line item in a budget. Which makes it a "procurable" item.

Perception is a powerful thing. While an agency may view itself and its product as something special, if the client and the viewers do not, guess who wins?

Jeff Bach
Stoughton, Wis.

Auto industry prime example of lost focus

RE: Al Ries' "The Principles of Marketing Can Be Summed Up in One Word" (AdAge.com, Jan. 5). The distinction between expansion and a second brand is critical, and one that the automotive industry has very seldom gotten right. Many of the auto industry's strongest brands have been weakened over the past 20 years because of the need to expand. The desire to chase volume in a category overheated by cheap money boosted sales but resulted in marques that lost their focus -- Volvo, Mercedes-Benz. BMW (to name just a few) are not the powerful brands they once were.

Now they find themselves in a hyper-competitive category that has gone through a cataclysmic "adjustment," and they no longer have the brand leverage they so desperately need to compete in the "new normal" market.

Look at the automotive brands that have flourished in the past 18 months ... Subaru and Mini. Two very focused and clearly understood brands with loyal advocates.

In a market where it is now hard to find a bad car because product quality is so good and products are often more alike than different, the auto industry is exhibiting the traits of a commodity market.

Never has positioning and the leverage of a strong brand been more important.

Cameron McNaughton
McNaughton Automotive Perspectives
Hillsborough, N.C.

Avatar's content is marketing genius

Re: "Avatar Soars on Fat Ad Spending, Mass Marketing" (AA, Jan. 4). Congratulations to James Cameron, Fox and their brand partners for delivering the new cultural phenomenon of "Avatar." I took my children to see it last weekend and loved it -- great story, great special effects, great acting and overall, well worth the 3-D ticket price. In fact, I plan to see it again, and will be first in line for the eventual DVD.

Of course, the true power of "Avatar" lies in its recognizable and compelling archetypal story of an "impotent" (in this case, paralyzed) good guy, who accepts a mission that ends up vanquishing evil, thereby saving the world (Pandora), and making the hero whole again (echoes of "Harry Potter," Bilbo Baggins and many others). But what remains unique about "Avatar" -- and what may ultimately spur it to even greater business success, both domestically and internationally -- is its unusually overt anti-American themes. The tale is anti-corporate, anti-imperialist, anti-military and anti-ethno-centrist -- all adjectives not infrequently leveled at our country. As an American-made movie, "Avatar" thereby also forms a kind of "blockbuster confessional" for domestic viewers, and one that is all the more ironic in theaters, where the movie is preceded by lavish advertising for various divisions of the U.S. armed forces. On the other hand, foreign audiences will no doubt delight even more strongly at the movie's conclusion, where the evil (American) corporate interests are defeated by a much weaker, yet culturally strong, indigenous population.

All in all, "Avatar" is entertaining yet thought-provoking, great fun for the entire family, and the perfect movie to watch with a Big Mac and a Coke -- wherever on the planet you might be!

Saul Gitlin
exec VP-strategic services
Kang & Lee Advertising
New York

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