OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Marketing Society report will cause adland gloom

One of the odd things about editing Campaign is that there is always a queue of people forming to give you conflicting advice. "You consistently describe nonentities as supremos," one observer will say - adding, for good measure, "and your reporters swallow inflated agency press releases whole". And another: "Stop finding fault with the business, drop Turkey of the Week, be more positive, talk up the business, it's Campaign's support that will make clients feel good about advertising again."

This week, like most weeks, I'm afraid those in the second camp will be disappointed. The Marketing Society has polled 300 of its 3,000 members and uncovered some alarming trends. One is the inability of the marketing community to deliver in line with the pace of change of business. Another is the diminishing status of marketing, and in particular advertising, within business.

The results, taken at face value, spell out in black and white marketers' concerns over traditional advertising as a channel for influencing an increasingly cynical consumer.

Nine out of ten clients surveyed believed the influence of advertising has decreased over the past five years.

The same number thought it would continue to decrease over the next five years. Asked to rate various marketing disciplines in order of increasing importance over the next five years, 80 per cent voted for PR while only 47 per cent voted for print, TV and radio advertising.

On one level, this is nothing new, merely a repetition of 20 years of anti-TV feeling among marketers. Twenty years of inflation and the monopolistic attitude of ITV have clearly taken their toll.

That radio ranks on the same level as TV is interesting. Clearly the RAB has done a great job of selling itself as the better value medium.

Clients have come to see radio as not only complementary but in some cases a genuine alternative to television.

PR's trouncing of advertising as a marketing discipline of importance over the next five years puzzles me. Clients clearly have a magic belief in the power of PR, but I wonder how much of this confidence is explained by the fact that if the media takes up a craze, a product can be transformed on a minuscule budget and those costly TV channels can whistle for it.

Skoda, Innocent and other notable case studies aside, I would suggest this confidence in PR marks a triumph of hope over experience. (Cue tumultuous response from PR companies next week.)

Clients' inability to deliver in line with the pace of change in business comes across loud and clear. In consumer behaviour, the biggest changes cited were: higher service expectations (86 per cent); less trusting of corporates (77 per cent); consumer cynicism of marketing (66 per cent) and celebrity obsession (60 per cent).

Against that, set the fact that 76 per cent of clients say they are less likely to consider celebrity campaigns than five years ago. This is a weird one, isn't it? An indication, if any were needed, that the amount of money demanded by the big-league celebrities to put their name to ads has spiralled out of all proportion to their likely impact. Alan Cluer, you have a lot to answer for.

Every week at least ten of these surveys cross my desk. But I have seldom seen one that gives mainstream ad agencies and those who still sing the mantra of a 60-second TV ad such cause for concern. Full marks to Hugh Burkitt, the chief executive of the Marketing Society, for bringing them to our attention. The Society's conference on 19 November should be a lively affair.

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