OPINION: Mills on ... Wall Street Journal US

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

of advertising.

Nor, by the way, is it a very good ad for the agency that wrote it.