What makes a body beautiful?

On the marketing Richter scale, a breakaway from the Field Marketing Council ostensibly rates ‘small earthquake in Chile’ status. Nevertheless, it raises some interesting issues about trade bodies as a whole, and the way they are perceived.

The first point to note is that breakaways are the product of frustration; frustrated ambition possibly, but certainly frustration. This one, the Brand Experience Association, is no exception. As it happens, BEA is potentially more significant than most because it revolves around the high-octane concept of experiential marketing. While it would be a bold man or woman who hazarded, at this stage, a precise definition of experiential marketing, what we do know is that this is the new buzz-phrase captivating marketers, and that everyone wants a piece of it. At its most quixotic, it is seen as the marketing of the brand experience and is touted by companies from Coca-Cola downwards as a remedy to the declining efficiency of above-the-line advertising. More prosaically, its growing importance owes much to the powerful UK retail ‘medium’: experiential marketing frequently takes place in a retail environment, and the arguments used to support it, demographically speaking, are pretty much those being deployed with some success by Tesco TV.

So it can be seen that the ambitions of the BEA, while they may overlap some of those embraced by a field marketing trade body, are altogether loftier. There may also be a feeling among would-be BEA practitioners that, if experiential marketing really is the way of the future, every other marketing services trade body up to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising will sooner or later be making a claim to it. Pre-emption could, therefore, be the best way to achieve indisputable recognition.

This aggressive approach is risky, however. Many trade body breakaways soon disintegrate because they lack the broad support necessary for survival. There is also the risk that a breakaway will be viewed as cynical and irresponsible; addressing the needs of a few opportunistic individuals rather than the industry it supposedly serves. This certainly seems to be the view of Andy Marks, who claims ownership of the term ‘experiential marketing’.

Whether or not this charge is valid in the present context, it underlines an eternal dilemma in the role of marketing industry trade bodies. They must strive to represent the rapidly changing needs of a ‘knowledge’ economy without sacrificing the interests of the core membership which sustains them. Perhaps that should read ‘conservative interests’, for however visionary or dynamic trade body leaders may be, members have a nasty habit of digging their heels in when change is on the cards. We need only recall the fate of the IPA’s Big Tent and Peter Fisk, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, to illustrate the difficulty of steering through radical reform, no matter how necessary.

Yet systematically block that reform and the result will be trade bodies that cease, meaningfully, to represent anyone.

Stuart Smith, EditorNews Analysis, page 21

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