Advertising in a world of change

Keeping pace with global developments involves more than addressing short-term, specific needs. John Shannon finds that advertisers must strive for a broader understanding

The information revolution, the emergence of new and fiercely competitive trading powers and the increasing sophistication of multicultural, advertising-literate consumers, are among the changes reshaping the world in which we live and do business.

Through this column I have regularly tried to highlight some of the developments facing our industry. Sometimes, they find their origins in technological advance, or better education, or social, economic or political change; alternatively, as with own-label, changes are business-led.

Whatever its source, this flow of devel-opments has led many advertisers to focus more closely on the issue of change as it affects


In essence, advertisers recognise it is not enough for agencies to create ads that narrowly ad-dress specific situations as they occur; they argue agencies must respond to a more comprehensive picture of the interaction between significant changes, as well as their combined effect on a brand or business.

The message from advertisers is that agencies must adopt a holistic, rather than case-by-case, approach to assessing change if they are to create advertising sufficiently attuned to new needs and objectives.

Procter & Gamble Europe’s vice president advertising, Michael Cleary, recently provided a helpful insight into this requirement when he lamented the ascendancy of “telling over selling” advertising. He was referring to the increasingly common practice of making commercials in which USP messages are submerged beneath the tricks aimed essentially at achieving awareness and attention.

His observation illustrates how identification of new needs in isolation (here, the need to make advertising that gets noticed in a competitive market) often tempts agencies to forget vital ingredients of successful advertising – notably, of giving the consumer a con- vincing reason to purchase.

Similarly, failure to understand change in its fullest sense can seduce agencies into believing “new” equals “better”. This translates into the mistaken view that only by repeatedly breaking with past values can advertising overcome brand inertia. In practice, this often leads to consumer confusion and failure to produce enduring campaigns which have proved capable of sustaining long-term brand growth.

If agencies are to succeed in avoiding these pitfalls, they must understand and respond to a broader spectrum of economic, social, marketing and media intelligence. For only by operating within a more all-embracing understanding of the world in change can we avoid overly narrow, superficial reactions and succeed in communicating more effectively to its peoples.

John Shannon is president of Grey International.

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