Why we need to ditch the phrase 'non-working marketing spend'
A view from Richard Huntington

Why we need to ditch the phrase 'non-working marketing spend'

Not every brand is being fuelled by a killer idea paid for by "non-working marketing spend", but the point is that every brand should be, writes Richard Huntington, the chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi London.

There are many phrases to which I take exception. I hate dead metaphors such as "Achilles’ heel". I hate euphemisms that are designed to disguise their true meaning, such as "collateral damage". And I hate out-and-out lies such as "we will give the £350m we save from the European Union to the NHS".

But one of the most odious phrases in the English language is "non-working marketing spend". It is disrespectful and disingenuous, and the time has come for sane-thinking marketing people to challenge it at every opportunity.

An insidious import from the US, "non-working marketing spend" has become a favoured phrase of analysts and investors. The big accountancies have even set out ideal ratios of working to non-working spend.

And, as a result, any number of chief executives and chief financial officers have started falling over themselves to show they have eradicated these seemingly indulgent costs from their businesses.

For them, marketing expenditure that is "working" is the money spent on "activity" itself, the investment from which there can be a direct return. That, of course, sounds honourable and responsible but it disguises the fact that the laziest part of the marketing budget is the bit spent on media in its many incarnations.

And that is simply because you get what you pay for – nothing less and, sadly, nothing more. The truth is, the thing these slack-witted bean-counters call "non-working marketing expenditure" is the bit that actually creates the value and growth those businesses so desperately need.

An insidious import from the US, "non-working marketing spend" has become a favoured phrase of analysts and investors.

It’s the spend that opens up new revenue streams and turns faltering ones around. It’s the spend that helps galvanise organisations around a new idea or direction. It’s the spend that co-ordinates and integrates the many efforts of the brand in the service of a common purpose.

But that doesn’t cut it with the accountants – oh, no. I assume the many millions spent paying people to create, nurture and manage business-building ideas seem like money down the drain. Ideas such as "Vorsprung durch Technik", "The world’s favourite airline", "The fourth emergency service", "The ultimate driving machine", "Every little helps", "Campaign for real beauty", "This girl can"… need I go on?

Of course, not every brand is being fuelled by a killer idea paid for by "non-working marketing spend", but the point is that every brand should be.

And chief executives and chief financial officers would be well-advised against choking off the supply of these ideas to their businesses.

What the accountants call "non-working marketing spend" is, in fact, paying for marketers – client- and agency-side – to do their actual jobs and deliver growth for their brands and businesses. It is not a frivolous affectation – it is marketing.

Richard Huntington is the chief strategy officer of Saatchi & Saatchi London.
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