In a video interview at a debate on marketing through a recession hosted by Accenture and Campaign recently, Will Harris, the marketing director of Nokia UK, said that he felt "sorry for his agency mates" and somewhat controversially suggested that media agencies were "fast becoming an irrelevance".
He continued to say that creative and media agencies were "struggling like mad to cope" with both the new digital world and the additional pressures brought on by the recession. He added that he didn't believe he was getting the right advice from his agencies; that he would be looking to outstrip average media discounts by a factor of three and that, post-recession, advertisers will have learnt how to market without TV, which would cease being the primary medium.
His analogy that we were entering a period of "media rationing" was interesting and certainly the declines in advertiser expenditure across all media would support this. What I would challenge is the implication that "old mass media" are the fatty, expensive foods that advertisers will be able to thrive without.
I suspect Harris would claim he was being deliberately contentious. After all, in the past few months, Nokia's reported spend on outdoor alone is £1.8 million and in the past 12 months the company has spent a reported £22 million, of which £15 million was spread across mainstream TV and outdoor.
What is hard to ignore is that his views were at least, in part, echoed by other sobering statements from his fellow debate participants.
The main difference seemed to me to be a recognition by other participants that now was the time to liberate the talent from their agencies and collectively work bloody hard to get the best result in difficult times. After all, representatives of industries such as financial and automotive are probably well advised not to predict the downfall of other industry sectors.
Trinity of competence
So, avoiding the temptation to defend my livelihood as a result of the views of one individual, I have tried to distil the collective voice of this broad spectrum of impressive marketers.
I have concluded that all advertisers would agree that, above all else, they want distinctive, impactful, engaging and interactive creativity. Hallelujah, I say. Some people may be safe then. A recognition that the idea is more powerful than a technique, a media event, a channel or whatever seems obvious - but in recent years, great ideas have often been suffocated, particularly by over-engineered media plans.
Beyond creativity what they want, particularly in these recessionary times, is a trinity of competence: value for money, back to basics and digital.
It's hard to argue against striving for greater value at any time and exploiting the burgeoning digital opportunity seems a natural reaction to a world that is now, effectively, 100 per cent digital. What is most intriguing is the new phrase to have effortlessly slipped into the wish list, "back to basics".
I like that phrase. It implies the need for more rigour, the application of experience and a demand of accountability. It goes well with value for money and indeed with creativity.
But my fear is that for many of us there is a tension between this and the pressure to be digitally driven. And often there can be a blatant contradiction between the quest for value for money and the use of digital media.
New and old
What we need to do is avoid setting up a fight to the death between the old, television, and the new, digital - as characterised by Harris. It is just not helpful. Digital techniques have their part to play and as more critical mass is reached this way, the part will grow. But as many have observed before me, it is about balance, mix and timing.
Look at the new work from Cadbury Dairy Milk by Fallon. The work shows effective reach and frequency - words that go well with my definition of "back to basics"- being built behind impactful and engaging content on TV. Then, timed to co-incide with the point at which the ad has decent levels of recognition and fame, in comes a great piece of digital interactivity in the form of a DIY eyebrow video thingy - the best of both worlds and no doubt a team effort with a happy client in the middle. Cadbury has shown us the way. But buried in the write-up of the Campaign event a few weeks ago is a statistic from Phil Rumbol (the company's marketing director) that exaggerates the importance of the new at the expense of the old.
His soundbite about the "gorilla" campaign is that Cadbury paid for 30 per cent of the population to see the ad but, in actuality, 60 per cent ended up seeing it. However, according to Barb, in 2007 alone the film delivered 936 TVRS across all or most of commercial TV. You don't need to be a media specialist to work out that the reach was nearer 90 per cent than 30 per cent.
However, if you are not a media specialist and you are persuaded by Harris' apocalyptic views, you will want to believe Rumbol's soundbite. "Back to basics" demands a return to solid analysis of what happened to create an effect.
The advertiser who can pat his head while rubbing his tummy will win. The advertiser who thinks that it is a battle of media types will almost certainly lose.
As for us agencies ... we have a lot to learn from the most successful advertisers who seem to me to take a central role in the process. The best advertisers have never been subsumed by agency disciplines.The best marketing directors assume the role of conductor. We must focus on our core skills and acknowledge the competences of others.
And, above all, keep an eye on the conductor. Those that do will not need the pity of Harris.