What advertising needs to rise again

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In an extraordinary series of Advertising Age feature articles 30 years ago, Al Ries and partner Jack Trout planted "positioning" in the minds of ad people for generations to come. Now in his new book, "The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR," the "godfather of positioning" delivers shocking news: "Advertising is dead."

It seems to have expired at the ripe old age of 120 or so. But don't show up wearing a black tie. Any burial of our 21st century ad world is more than a bit premature.

Advertising in the first half of the 20th century took on new life when radio arrived, and was reborn again when TV came in the '50s. It will soar again on whatever new breakthrough in mass communication comes next. While waiting for that day, it's fun looking at how today's advertising gets consumers to reach for their wallets and exceed the limits on their credit cards.

fabulous campaigns exist

Were you watching when Apple Computer introduced the iBook with a fabulous multi-media ad campaign? Did you notice what happened? Selling a great new thing with an absolutely fascinating ad campaign boosted sales 182% over the older model. You better not write off the power of effective advertising just yet.

Did you notice how Kohl's, the upstart department store, rolled up a 14.8% gain this past holiday season while competitors on average picked up only 0.3%? Terrific values plus terrific advertising did it.

What I find most puzzling in the debate over the relevance of advertising is what we hear from the industry's own spokespersons. At this year's American Association of Advertising Agencies meeting, the incoming chairman sounded more like a "spooksperson" than spokesperson. He spooked advertising this way: "Somehow we've managed to make what we bring to the party-this brand-irresistibility booster-eminently resistible to clients. We've been unable to quantify its effectiveness."

He was making a valid point. The culprit is not advertising creativity but the inability to measure its real effectiveness in real time. Despite "zillions" spent on copy testing advertising research, it is generally agreed real time accountability remains an elusive goal for brand awareness advertising.

By "measuring" I don't mean observing what people say they intend to do or seem to have done or ought to do. I mean precise measurement of how people respond when the advertising reaches out to its target audience. Building accountability into brand-building advertising is the best means of being certain the premature "death" envisioned by Al Ries never happens. The good news is there are now several fresh new initiatives addressing this need.

One intriguing possibility: Determine whether marketing opposites can attract one another. With every business nurturing a customer database, think what it would mean for the seemingly incompatible worlds of brand awareness and direct response to find common ground? With such a surprising convergence, one could imagine a brand-building ad campaign in mass media that does it all.

You create the mind-set to produce the behavior needed to boost sales.

You measure by day, week and month how effectively your awareness ads are making the right connection with consumers.

You measure almost immediately how much more effective this campaign is over the previous campaign.

You hear directly from real prospects on how they perceive the new brand positioning and how it is influencing the desired change of opinion.

It is the best of both worlds. And it is no longer just a theory. The convergence concept was tested by General Motors Corp. in Argentina last year. Given the desperate economic situation, GM decided on a totally different approach for the Astra brand. It ran an unprecedented 30-second brand/response TV campaign in prime time. The agency named this new genre RRTV (relationship response TV.)

success with convergence

During the campaign, the expected number of test drives almost tripled and Astra's market share jumped to 15% at its peak in September from 6.9% in July.

The brand-building message of a previously run 30-second spot now had a built-in relevant offer asking prospects to raise their hands (dial the toll-free number) and say "Tell me more." Thousands picked up the phone and did just that.

When it was over, Jaime Ardila, president of GM Argentina, said: "It worked. We doubled market share. For the first time in my life, I can spend money on mass media ads in an accountable way."

It demonstrated the real possibility that bringing together brand awareness and direct response can create something new to run on traditional media and on the digital video frontier with the promise of a geometric increase in effectiveness.

Could this be the beginning of a new era of advertising accountability? Only time will tell.

Stan Rapp is chairman, MRM Partners Worldwide, New York, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann- Erickson World Group.

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