Advertising Needs a Back-bone

February 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Companies that accepted TARP bail-out money need to get a back-bone, says the editorial in Advertising Age this week, and dig-in against pressure from government minders who question the value of using those funds to pay for advertising and other marketing practices. Those companies also have to get their priorities right and stop flying around on fancy corporate jets, taking fancy retreats and paying excessive incentive bonuses, say the editors. Advertising is a necessary and important component of growing businesses and creating shareholder value and must continue.

How do we turn this editorial into a clarion call to the marketing industry as a whole? Get a back-bone. I’ve heard the John Wanamaker expression — you know, the one about which half of his advertising budget is getting wasted — so many times since the Internet appeared on the marketing scene to “solve” that problem that I’m convinced it’s become destructive. In the same issue of Ad Age this week, on the front page, is the report that Anheuser-Busch InBev is looking to trim $1.5 billion in agencies fees – roughly 25% – 30%. I referenced this issue in my blog post yesterday (“What would J. Walter Thompson do?”): we’re eating our young. Over the years, through quiet acquiescence as an industry we have enabled those who would destroy us.

In the final paragraph of its editorial Ad Age exhorts businesses to take the fight to Washington. “Even if it means marching up to Capital Hill, you must make the case for good businesses practices. And if you need some help doing so, know we’ll be right there with you.”

Ad Age is right. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think how the value of our business – that is, advertising – can prevail in Washington if it has failed to prevail in the corner offices of our own companies. I have this awful image of a Congressional hearing on the matter:

Congressman: “Well, what about that so-called Internet advertising? Is it true that you can count the number of times a person points at – or, what is it? – clicks on an advertisement?”

CEO: “Yes, Congressman.”

Congressman: “There you go then. Problem solved. All this other advertising voodoo we can take out back and –  you know – shoot it. Who’s for lunch?”

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