Opinion: Perspective - Adland can avoid downturn if it proves its worth

For such an exciting and energetic industry, adland is good at being depressed. One whiff of a possible slowdown and everyone's talking recession.

OK, this week's stockmarket drama is more than a whiff and the evidence for slacking consumer confidence is mounting. Even so, the industry seems in danger of talking itself into crisis.

Campaign is not immune. We're as interested in picking over the industry's economic outlook as anyone else, and stories like the TV market trouble (page 2) make for good headlines and sober reading.

Fortunately, there's been plenty of coverage in the past few weeks of advertising's power to transform brands. The contribution of the Dairy Milk "gorilla" ads to Cadbury's sales has had a lot of excellent PR and, this week, the supermarket Morrisons largely attributed a splendid 9.5 per cent surge in underlying sales over Christmas to its advertising by DLKW.

And Campaign's given the IPA's Little Book of Growth plenty of exposure already, but a bit more will do no harm in the hope that nervous advertisers might be reading this column. The booklet is jam-packed with evidence of advertising's effectiveness, and though there are as many, if not more, buried case studies showing the opposite effect, the results showcased here should be force-fed to marketers. And they should be particularly force-fed to those marketers who took part in the new Fournaise study. Fournaise claims to have found that marketers worldwide (it questioned 3,000 of them) felt 65 per cent of their marketing spend had no discernible effect: a worrying update on Leverhulme's 50 per cent wastage.

According to Fournaise, the real issue for marketers is that they just don't know how, or how well, their marketing really works on consumers. Tracking marketing effectiveness topped the 2008 wishlists of 35 per cent of marketers and was a top-three desire for 70 per cent of them.

It's shocking that after all this time and in such a supposedly sophisticated industry, effectiveness research should still be such a bugbear. Adland: take note.

More urgent, though, is the need to prove the effectiveness of maintaining advertising momentum through times of economic uncertainty: the competitive edge that holding nerve and budgets can give to brands. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that spending through a slowdown and taking the most optimistic view of the economic outlook can pull companies through and sustain brand health.

But the evidence needs amplifying. Look at the stock-market performance of adland shares (page 2). The situation is serious.

So, no thanks to most of adland, the industry has escaped a full pre-watershed ban on so-called junk-food advertising on television. For the moment.

In the fight against fatties, the Government has held fire on its advertising target and decided not to outlaw brands high in fat, salt and sugar from advertising before 9pm.

Unless you got involved in any way in lobbying against further restrictions (or at the very least signed our Action For Ads petition), please don't feel smugly satisfied. The Government has not exactly bowed to industry pressure; the main brake appears to have been the Department of Culture Media and Sport and Ofcom's warning about the cost of a ban to the television industry itself.

According to Ofcom figures, more than £200 million will be saved for the TV advertising coffers by avoiding the ban, and as our story on page 2 highlights, the poor broadcasters need every piddling penny.

But there's no guarantee this is anything more than a temporary reprieve and the industry's general indolence may yet prove fatal. Despite yesterday's announcement that there will be no watershed ban, the review of Ofcom's existing restrictions is set to be brought forward to this summer. The battle's far from won.