Those of you with an economics background will know that the
definition of a recession is when there are two consecutive quarters of
negative economic growth.
Actually, I know a much better definition of a recession. It's when the
ad industry and media owners - individually or together - start
producing heavy surveys, usually with an academic bias, to prove that,
gosh, advertising really does work and that advertising in a downturn
works even better.
So it was no surprise to me at the beginning of the year that the IPA
produced just such a work.
Forgive me if I sound cynical. I don't mean to. Like all of us in this
business, I passionately believe in the efficacy of advertising. Like
all of us, I passionately believe that an advertising recession offers
the committed, long-term advertiser an excellent opportunity to steal
market share from those less committed or those whose budgets may be
"disappeared" at the first sign of hard times.
It's just that, having started at Campaign in 1991 - the day after the
Gulf War broke out, to be exact - I've seen this before.What does make
me cynical, however, is when you see ad agencies and media owners
banging on about the importance of advertising, yet they signally fail
to do it themselves.
So I take my hat off to the Wall Street Journal, which is currently
running a series of ads in Advertising Age addressing exactly this
issue. "Advertising During Challenging Times - number 1 in a series" the
little tagline at the top of the page says, a reminder that it at least
understands the importance of putting its money where its mouth is.
Normally, the ads in the US trade press leave me cold. They seem to
exemplify all the things that are bad about American advertising, and
none of the good.
This one caught my eye. Partly it was the image - a sepia-tinted pig
with wings - and the rather droll line underneath: "Raising brand
awareness without advertising and other improbabilities." Then followed
some long (well, long-ish) copy.
Aha, I thought, as a sucker for persuasive copy, this is going to be
fun. Indeed, as briefs go, this must be almost as good as it gets:
produce an ad for the power of advertising. Imagine giving that to a
David Abbott or an Adrian Holmes.
They could do it standing on their head. Even Joe Writer could produce
something decent for a brief like that. Instead, what we have is
something written by a 17-year-old for 17-year-olds.
"Messages are stronger when repeated," the opening line says. Then, in a
flash of genius, it repeats the line. Amazing.
It gets worse: "Research proves that positive feelings towards a brand
are directly related to the number of advertising exposures." (Well, no,
I think it's a bit more complicated than that.) "The more people are
exposed to your advertising the more they will like your product and buy
your product." (Aha, a copywriter from the P&G
hit-them-over-the-head-time-and-time-again-till-they-submit school of
Then comes the set up ... "Cutting adspend during difficult economic
times may seem like a quick, easy fix, but can have dire consequences."
... followed by the clincher: "Your brand can die faster than a
houseplant." This, to make sure we don't miss the point, is in bold
typeface. Well, I've heard struggling brands compared to a lot of
things, but a withering houseplant is a new one on me. As a warning of
the dire consequences of not advertising it lacks a certain, well,
I applaud the Wall Street Journal for its efforts. What I don't
understand is why it would sanction an ad that makes no mention of
creativity or media innovation as ways of achieving cut-through, and
insults the intelligence of readers by taking such an old-fashioned view
Nor, by the way, is it a very good ad for the agency that wrote it.