One message, one voice

It’s time for marketing services disciplines to be more mutually inclusive. The opportunities are great, but so are the responsibilities, not least for the client, says Clive Mishon

Just as life can imitate art, so too does marketing. On the one hand, there are fundamentalists who have issues integrating, and then there are those who promote multiculturalism, permitting everyone to do their own thing, while respecting the practices of others. In marcoms, there are fundamentalists who live and work in their discipline silos (hail the 30-second TV spot), and then there are those who believe we operate in an integrated world that treats all media as equal.

At a recent Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide (MAAW) Conference in Berlin, agency principals from across the globe met to learn from one another – with the ethos that in a global economy there is more that binds than separates us. This is true, yet while UK agencies are greater advocates of multiculturalism, they operate in a market under attack from insurgents in the guise of consumer groups that portray advertising and promotions as a negative force and, as such, want it outlawed.

It is disturbing that an industry which has produced some of the greatest creative and marketing talents – the envy of the world and major contributors to “UK plc” – should be targeted in this way, just as the digital revolution takes off. Maybe the two are related and those who fear the power of the media feel they should control it more. Advertising and promotions are not the cause of national obesity and not all competitions are a rip-off.

The ISP (Institute of Sales Promotion) launched in 1933, since when the role of promotions has changed dramatically, while remaining a fundamental marketing tool. The last MAAW conference I attended was in 1986, when promotions were hot. In the intervening years, the ability to target consumers has improved massively, as media has proliferated. Nonetheless sales promotion has drifted out of favour as many see it as simply a range of techniques used to promote groceries in supermarkets.

In reality, the art of promoting sales runs through all media. This is the era when Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” has been turned on its head, so that the idea or message (which is often promotional) comes first and then we ensure it is communicated through the right media. I think that the signs are all there, as they were in 1986, and promotions are again hot. Yet many in specialist media disciplines refuse to give sales promotion its due recognition. They do not believe it is something in which they are a part and therefore do not make the most of the opportunity that presents itself.

Are you in the business of promoting sales? Then, like it or not, you are in the business of sales promotion – not exclusively, but simply as a part (small or large) of what you do. Sales promotion is the art of creating a proposition with a call to action and demonstrable benefit (not necessarily tangible) that changes consumer behaviour. And one of the main reasons why more of us are getting into promotions is that we are advertising through highly targeted media channels and, therefore, want audiences to interact. It is this that makes digital media the media of choice for promotions.

But, as more of us use promotions, whether we know it or not, there are codes to which we must adhere and it is the responsibility of us all to uphold and support these self-regulatory codes – so that we do not put ammunition into the hands of the advertising terrorists. I am not only talking with agencies, but brand owners. We adhere to a sophisticated legislative and regulatory framework, which only works if all stakeholders are well versed in its content.

And clients have a responsibility to know the rules every much as their agencies – if not more so. Just look at the high-profile disasters, from Hoover to GMTV, where no agencies were involved. From an ISP perspective, I must question why these companies have not had a higher-profile role in the regulatory issues facing promotions.

Irrespective of how you define yourself in marcoms, there are elements that connect us all. Think of sales promotion as one of these elements and not the defining discipline. A more inclusive approach would mean better relations between factions and would allow all of us to speak out with one, unified voice. 

Clive Mishon is chairman of Pulse Group and The Institute of Sales

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