Agencies work on public image

Last week’s ‘Cite de la Pub’ exhibition in Paris marks an attempt by the advertising industry to counter consumer hostility about advertising.

Many of those working in the international advertising business are concerned that consumer understanding of what they do is badly faulted.

Reports published at the end of last year in a number of European markets (MW November 15 1996) suggested that this concern was not without foundation.

In Germany, a study found that consumers were judging advertising less useful for finding out about new products and that a diminishing number regarded it as helpful. They also found it less entertaining. The Dutch were reported to be more irritated by advertising while the Swedes generally felt “less positive” about it.

Such criticism should always be handled with a degree of scepticism. However, to dismiss it out of hand would be to ignore what may be an important message, not perhaps about the quality of work produced by agencies, but about the fundamental relationship between the industry and the people it seeks to influence.

As is often repeated in the pages of the industry’s press, commercial communication is moving through a period of change. Certainly, the Internet and other new media opportunities, digital technology, and the globalisation of client business are major factors influencing the way agencies conduct their business.

Anticipating and interpreting this change is a vast and complex challenge for agencies. And as the industry becomes more sophisticated, so there is a real danger that its objectives and methods may also become more obscure and therefore more threatening to the public.

To address this problem, France’s advertising industry has developed a bold solution.

Last week Paris staged “Cité de la Pub” or “City of Commercial Communications”. This annual event is, in effect, a communications open week, part trade fair but principally a public show, during which the marketing and communications industry sets out to present itself in a positive way to the general public .

By giving the public genuine insight into the objectives of the marketing function and the working methods and new developments in the industry, “Cité de la Pub” builds a relationship of trust with consumers.

Above all, the open week meets the growing need to communicate the workings of the marketing process as an essential part of the society which consumers enjoy.

It is an imaginative initiative which other European countries should emulate.

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