Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The War on Advertising

Let us not forget that sales, advertising and generating awareness and recognition do not go hand in hand. And, what marketers once accomplished with brain, they now accomplish with brawn. Consumers surf ads because most are either too contrived, or too obvious. A juvenile focus on product features and benefits serve best to keep those earning their first career's worth of experience from making mistakes that will cost bosses their jobs. It also retards the true creativity that makes the whole of a brand greater than the sum of its parts. For example, Chunky Soup wasn't a stew, it was a soup you ate with a fork - thus building an equity Campbell's could manage through the years.

Back in the day, advertising sold stuff. Today, advertising is created to generate awareness and recognition - representing a different goal than "selling." There is nothing wrong with generating awareness and recognition via advertising as long as you realize it sets the bar lower than if the goal was to sell stuff. You must also realize that generating awareness and recognition is agency-speak for, "if you throw enough stuff against the glass some of it might stick." Does this distress some of you to hear this? Do you want to disagree? It should and you will. Remember, I was there at the dividing line. I can pinpoint the date time and location where and when new agency pitches stopped using the word "sales," replacing that word with the lesser goal of just generating "awareness" and "recognition." I had been in over 600 new business pitches prior to that date, and over 900 since - that's over 1500 new business pitches - and the real number is probably higher. Generating awareness and recognition is a far easier target to hit full of lesser promise that gives an agency and client now uncertain of the target to do and say whatever they wish. So in the end advertising chronicals such as Ad Age, AdWeek, BrandWeek and all the rest wonder why consumer packaged goods have become commodities, why retailers (think about that term re TAILERS) now wag the (manufacturer) dog, why agencies are paid less, why agency compensation declines, why agencies must merge to keep their heads above water.... The only cure is to put the promise of sell back into the strategy. To stop trying to be all things to all people and just be who you are. Ask yourself, "what is your product's reason-for-being?" Is your answer the same as everyone elses? Ask yourself, "why is your product focusing on features and benefits, the lowest cost-of-entry common denominators in any category - rather than a higher and more compelling Special User Effect whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts? That is what advertising used to do.


Puru Gupta said...

Well written Martin - Quite relevant and to the point. Makes one pause and think for a minute where Advertising is going.

No matter how many ideas float in the media houses today, no matter how many new pitches get scrapped inside the closed walls today, at the end of the day, the "whole" of it, atleast for the "walking dead" advertisers, falls in the ambit of old world advertising.

For the survivors,its imperative to move on to the new world media.

What I infer from this is that there is a fine line separating both of these worlds now - where one needs to necessarily be on one side and can no longer stand on the dividing line. Is that so?

Nonetheless, great perspective. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

I cannot agree. All too often clients review yesterday’s sales and ask what can we do today to effect them tomorrow. By shifting the responsibility of sales to an outside organisation is pure folly. I will not dispute that we have to be better at what we do but by the same token, purchasing a product can be influenced by how easy it is to park close enough to the store.

H. Martin Calle said...

To know where I'm coming from do a thorough read up on Rosser Reeves. He created advertising that sold. The bar of generating awareness and recognition was just to low and left to much to chance for him. In terms of finding "product-based selling solutions" he has been my inspiration for more than 35 years and few, if other than myself preserve his thinking. In a liberal world where brands like Starbucks have become nothing more than an entity that attempts to be all things to all people, management has watered down the brand from the love/hate relationship (you either loved dark roast or you didn't) that got the brand on its rapid growth phase. All that came after, starting with the introduction of "milder dimensions" started the brand equity on its precipitous spiral into mature earnings low growth phase. No if I pull into a parking lot and a Starbucks is right next door to a Gloria Jeans Coffee and Tea I could just as easily pick either for my Maxwell House like milder dimension. BUt had I wanted Maxwell House I could also have gone to the grocery store. I think the best thing Starbucks could do would be to get rid of the breakfast sandwiches and the milder dimensions and just go back to their roots. Like everything else, once something lean and mean gets started, the manager that come after layer on the fat.

Anonymous said...

You infer I don’t know where you are coming from. That is slightly unfair. I understand your opinion and your desire to uphold such luminaries of our business. However, all too often the sales based accountability takes the responsibility away from our clients to improve or change their business. Your example reinforces that, I think. Regardless of whether a product sells, you are absolutely correct in asserting “product-based selling solutions” are always the better route. Based on what we have been discussing, how would you rate the launch tv work for the iPhone? The product has sold rather well. Would you credit the agency for producing great work that sold, that Mr Reeves would be proud of?

H. Martin Calle said...

Interesting question. My take is that Apple consistently has visually appealing advertising, the same as their products, but I can't remember hearing or seeing why I should have an iPhone other than the fact that it is the latest and greatest. So I suppose early adapter sales were brisk. Now what? Most companies take a success and fatten it up, contributing to brand obesity - My question is this. What is the iPhone's Special User Effect (tm)? If we were Rosser Reeves, how would we state the product's USP? What is it's reason-for-being? Since these questions and answers take homework, I don't think it has or will be done. Technology companies often seem to do so well they don't feel the need to do more positioning homework (ie: in Apple's place they are content to simply play off PCs and Microsoft because without this homework you would't know what else to say or do that's more relevant or resonant to more people) or they are doing so poorly, they can't afford to. $250,000 in custom perception learning would break the bank.
There are lots of commercials that people like. My kids can recite their favorites chapter and verse. But I came from a school where the ad made the person get up from they're couch, get in their car, and go buy the product right now. To many of today's ads leave that up to the convenience of the consumer, and that leads to reduced impulse.

H. Martin Calle said...

By the way, is this THE Simon Fairweather at Burnett Detroit?