Ad Houses Will Need To Be More Nimble

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handshake2.jpgThe Web’s emergence is forcing ad executives to succumb to marketers’ demands that agencies reinvent how ads are created, and forgo their TV-centric approach. Clients are even calling for changes in the way ad firms are structured. But until now, few advertisers have spent more than 5% to 10% of their marketing budgets online. With the growth of online video and social networking, ad experts expect that percentage to jump significantly this year.

Softness in the economy also will likely drive more money to the Internet, which can be cheaper than other media and has a reach that is easier to measure, which is attractive to advertisers in slower times. Merrill Lynch predicts overall ad spending in the U.S. for 2008 will grow 2.3%, while the portion of that spending on the Web will increase 18%. Publicis Groupe’s ZenithOptimedia says it expects the amount spent on Internet advertising to overtake spending on radio in 2008, and spending on magazines in 2010.

Amid this transformation of the ad industry, here are five trends to watch in 2008:

• New structure: The Web has fueled marketers’ frustration with the lack of collaboration inside the ad holding companies that dominate the industry. Specifically, marketers want more cooperation between the executives who create ads for TV and newspapers and those who craft Web ads or perform less glamorous tasks such as researching consumer behavior.
 
Many advertisers complain that ad executives too often push agendas that will most help their own bottom lines and tend to favor certain types of media, such as TV. Advertisers want a “media-agnostic” approach, one that picks whatever medium is best for the ad campaign.

Some bigger marketers have taken matters into their own hands during the past year. Procter & Gamble, Dell and Johnson & Johnson each have tried — working with ad holding companies — to create new types of ad groups that blend different functions. In 2008, pressure from marketers on this issue is likely to intensify, forcing even more change in the way ad firms are structured.

Screen wars: As advertisers find it harder to reach consumers in a fragmented media world, some are turning more often to the outdoors. Television screens are increasingly popping up in grocery and department-store aisles, elevators and even gas pumps — all blaring clips of TV programs, accompanied by ads. Walt Disney’s ESPN and CBS Corp. each have programming running on 20-inch liquid-crystal displays at pumps at gas stations around the country. Gas Station TV, which operates about 5,000 such screens in 300 cities, offers ads from marketers such as General Motors’ Chevrolet and Sony. Last year, CBS inked a deal to have its programming also air in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices.
 
House guest: Over the years, ad makers have tried various methods to learn about consumers, from focus groups to online polls. But many on Madison Avenue are skeptical of these methods, believing consumers don’t always share their true feelings in those types of traditional settings. So a growing number of ad agencies are expected to try a different approach: having researchers spend long periods of time with consumers to find out more about how they live.
 
Some have already tried this. When devising a new ad for J.C. Penney last year, Saatchi & Saatchi sent staffers to hang out with more than 50 women for several days. They helped the women clean their houses, carpool, cook dinner and shop. Rather than pepper them with questions, the agency employees simply observed the women’s behavior and emotions. Their research became the basis of a new ad campaign; the commercials have won praise from Madison Avenue’s creative community.

“If you want to understand how a lion hunts, you don’t go to the zoo — you go to the jungle,” said Sandy Thompson, global head of strategic planning for Saatchi, which is owned by Publicis Groupe.

Green backlash: Corporate America latched onto environmental marketing last year, as big companies spent millions of ad dollars promoting their products and services as eco-friendly. Some people in the ad business are predicting a backlash this year from consumers who question whether companies are living up to their promises. “Marketers will be more intensely scrutinized for their green efforts — those that don’t hold up will be called out via blogs and elsewhere online, ultimately leading to consumer skepticism,” said Greg Stern, chief executive of the ad firm Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners.
 
• The antisocial movement: Privacy issues, combined with the fact that consumers have only so much free time, could damp the boom in social networking on the Web. “Nobody has 5,000 real friends,” says Tim Hanlon, senior vice president of Denuo Group, a media and advertising consulting firm owned by Publicis. “At the end of the day it just becomes one big cauldron of noise.” For marketers, he says, that will mean the sites will be much more effective as a consumer-research tool than as a venue to peddle products.

Suzanne Vranica is a writer for WSJ.com

Compliments of WSJ.com

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