It’s all advertising

Instead of worrying about the demise of advertising, agencies should be looking to the future and thinking in terms of the bigger picture, says David Bernstein

I was reassured by Adrian Shaughnessy’s piece (DW 8 July) on the changes wrought by the Internet on traditional media. I had recently been warned – in those very same traditional media – of the imminent death of advertising. I read of ITV1’s revenue slippage of 15 per cent, of recruitment advertising falling by 17 per cent, of the incursions of PVR and TiVo and so on. Shaughnessy, however, in detailing the interactive nature of digital media and new delivery systems, did not warn of advertising’s demise, but told of its embrace of change.

Change was the theme of a recent presentation at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. Senior fellows were updated on developments. An old friend I met there dropped me a line the next day to bemoan the fact that the business has fragmented into so many specialisms.

Coincidentally, I was e-mailed an essay from a young entrepreneur who had set up an ’emporium’ of creative services. ‘One of the biggest mistakes advertising agencies ever made was the “disintegration” of the advertising process into so many fragmented companies and departments,’ he wrote.

So here, in common cause, were voices, over a generation apart, questioning who was in charge of the total picture. The young man’s essay quoted Jeremy Bullmore: ‘Has the growth of the concept of the account group, composed of so-called specialists in media and creativity and planning, quite unintentionally made the existence of the Complete Advertising Man less likely?’ For ‘man’, also read ‘woman’.

Accelerating fragmentation has made his existence all the more necessary. The complete ad man is a countervailing centripetal force. Some may query the term ‘advertising’ when so many of the new delivery systems are far from conventional. Is a new generic term required? ‘Marketing communications’ maybe? But, as my young friend says, ‘It’s all advertising, isn’t it?’ What do you call Roger Federer’s immaculate white jacket with the discreet Nike-designed triple motif? I call it advertising.

The complete ad man takes a holistic view of brand communication, calling on a variety of media to amplify a coherent message. The complete ad man of old knew that advertising is an inclusive operation, but most of his colleagues compartmentalised media into above- and below- the line. The former was linked to the commission system, while the latter were paid-for services. Toilers below the line were regarded as lesser mortals and their activities – promotion, merchandising, direct mail, sampling and public relations – as less than professional. Their full potential was rarely realised – except by the complete ad man.

As an incomplete ad man, young and ignorant of these divisions, I presented, unbidden, a rough for a support ad for Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles to the account director. The Post Office Tower had just gone up. I put a tall illustration on each outside column of a double-page newspaper spread, headlining them ‘Congratulations Postal People from Rowntree’s the Pastille People’.

The director looked at me in disbelief. ‘The client won’t buy this. It isn’t advertising. It’s publicity.’ Fifteen years later, I was lunching with that client. I told him the story. He reprimanded me for not having tried harder. ‘We’d have run it,’ he said. But then he was a complete ad man. Words didn’t box him in.

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