TV fame loses out to drive for effectiveness

Traditional advertising agencies need to think beyond making a brand famous, and produce campaigns that communicate more effectively, says Guy Abrahams

The traditional creative agency no longer has a monopoly on good or big ideas. While the creative agencies have spent their time perfecting the TV commercial, media agencies have been engaged in a virtual arms race of creative communication, expanding into new areas of event and sponsorship marketing, experiential marketing, database marketing, data mining and, God forbid, creative thinking.

It seems that this year’s Marketing Forum was not kind to the traditional advertising agencies. Not only was the keynote speaker Philip Kotler reported as saying that TV advertising no longer works, but it was also widely accepted that clients were no longer falling for the age-old “I’m going to make you famous” line.

So why have the traditional creative agencies missed the boat? The problem is that the majority have failed to change with the times. Pressure on margins and competition have forced agencies to become efficient ad factories producing long lead-time, big-budget TV commercials in a world which needs them less and less.

In Kotler’s marketing world, it is not TV that does not work anymore, but the traditional way of using TV.

What is needed are low-budget TV solutions with targeted messages which can be turned around quickly enough to respond to a changing market. After all, as any media buyer worth his salt will tell you – on a cost per thousand (CPT) basis – TV is relatively cheap. It is only the cost of production that is prohibitively expensive.

Furthermore, there is a belief among traditional creative agencies that the key to success is just about communicating more creatively. In Kotler’s view, simply communicating creatively is not enough. The future of success will be based on the creative use of communication. To this end there is no longer one creative agency, but many creative agencies.

In contrast to the traditional agencies, the media agencies seemed to have a good Marketing Forum. Kotler, while not singling them out for praise, was certainly speaking their language.

In the past ten years, media agencies have strived to develop information systems and processes to demonstrate marketing impact, to organise by customer segments and deliver competitive advantage through differentiated strategies.

So how do the old advertising agencies get back on board? The more progressive have tried employing communication strategists. This is probably not the solution as they are beholden to what these businesses deliver best – big “famous” brand TV campaigns. Even if they were truly neutral, clients may still think their advice is tainted. The change has to be more fundamental.

The traditional agencies need to be willing to follow other people’s ideas as well as their lead. They need to be humble enough to work in proper integrated teams, accepting the importance and contributions of other disciplines. Only then will clients get to solutions that are not famous for fame’s sake, but famous because they are effective.

Guy Abrahams is strategic planing director at BLM Group

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