advertisingAgencies claim demands from clients let good ads down.

Hands up-are you among the 72 per cent of agency staff who think most advertising doesn’t work?

Last week. Campaign published the results of a lifestyle survey which produced this gloomy statistic. The extreme pessimists of the bunch were the planners, of whom only 17 per cent agreed with the statement: “Most advertising works.”

Jackie Boulter, the head of planning at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, admits: “Planners can be a cynical bunch. Their lack of faith in advertising may be a reaction to the fact that a lot of the ads on TV are not good, and therefore it is assumed that they can’t work. ”

Boulter is critical of the attitude of some creatives who are more concerned that their work wins awards than motivates the consumer. However, Graham Fink, a commercials director and the president of D&AD, retaliates on behalf of creatives: “A lot of ideas get watered down by research, and by the time an ad gets on air the execution is only half as good as the original concept. ”

Les Stern, the deputy chairman of Bates Dorland, and a planner by trade, dismisses this attitude. He says: “I have seen as much bad advertising that has not been researched as I have seen good advertising that has.”

In defence of their poor opinion of the effectiveness of advertising, many senior planners say that the problems arise when clients and agencies don’t discuss exactly what they expect a campaign to achieve at the outset.

The same campaign can be deemed to have succeeded or failed depending on the criteria by which it is judged. Defending a brand’s market share and maintaining, rather than building, sales, can be a huge achievement in a dramatically competitive environment. Alternatively; in certain circumstances, a product may perform sensationally despite ineffectual advertising or even without any advertising at all.

Stern explains: “At any one time, there are many factors working on a brand’s commercial performance.”

Nigel Jones, the head of account planning at BMP DDB, rejects the notion that all ads are designed to sell. He says: “Clients sometimes expect ads to affect sales directly, but a lot of advertising is strategically planned to affect other factors first.”

A recent campaign by BMP for Alliance and Leicester mortgages merely asked home buyers to visit a branch of the building society before making any decisions. It was designed specifically to change behaviour rather than directly flog mortgages.

Clients often hope advertising will be a panacea for all their marketing ills, and Simon Clemmow, the planning director of Simons Palmer Clemmow Johnson, insists agencies must sometimes take the blame for exaggerating the possibilities of advertising. “Agencies can make unsupportable promises in the heat of new-business pitches,” he suggests.

Clemmow also identifies the increasing difficulty of separating advertising from the rest of the marketing mix when judging success or failure. He would like to see the introduction of marketing effectiveness awards to replace the advertising effectiveness awards.

The problem is also recognised by Stern, who says: “You only have to look at the tiny number of submissions to the advertising effectiveness awards compared with the huge number of advertised brands to see how difficult it must be to prove and isolate effective campaigns.”

Rapidly fragmenting media, plus an increased reliance on PR to maximise spend, as well as competition for budgets with direct marketing, have exacerbated the problem.

Mark Wnek, the executive creative director of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, believes there has been an enormous change in terms of what people expect advertising to achieve. He says: “We are coming out of the world of the unique selling proposition and the single commercial channel. What we do is built around that false world, and we must come to terms with the fact that consumers are now bombarded by so much advertising, that to have an effect our work has to make an impact on the whole culture.”

Stern believes only a very brave person would claim that most advertising works. But he suspects most planners responding to the Campaign survey would assert that the majority of their own efforts are successful. “It is like asking people if they’ve been corrupted or depraved by porn. They all say that they themselves haven’t, but they know someone who has.”

Wnek is not surprised by the cynicism of his planning colleagues. He says: “Planners often work in isolation, and treat advertising as a laboratory experiment, in which case they can never have as much influence on the entire process as they would like. ”

Wnek offers the solution: “Planners should be brought out of their boxes and made more a part of the process as a whole.”

Boulter, on the other hand, suggests that disappointment in advertising’s effectiveness could be kept at bay by agreeing with the client up front, before the creative brief is written, whether a campaign should aim to work on sales, attitudes, loyal existing customers, or recruitment of new customers.

She concedes: “Sometimes an agency doesn’t want to grasp the nettle of difficult research findings, and insists on carrying on with a campaign, even when it obviously needs to be changed.”

Predictably, planners still have great faith in the powers of research. It is clients, they claim, who are more likely to test ideas to destruction. Boulter, who also has great respect for the creative idea, adds: “Planners know how careful you have to be with the idea, and that it is worth its weight in gold.”

As so often, communication is the key, and clients must con tribute by putting a stop to sloppy briefings. Clear objectives, a rigorously defined creative strategy and universally agreed criteria for effectiveness should result in ads that really work.

Stern, who works on the Safeway account at Bates, points out: “Retailers, in particular, are notoriously stringent in their cost control, yet above-the-line adspend by the major supermarkets is rocketing. So it looks like advertising must work.”

The best place to make your supermarket’s advertising decisions is the CEO’s office. If your CEO is involved, your advertising campaigns can be the key to your success.

Beyond price and item

The champion of this strategy is Ray Myers. And when Ray Myers talks, supermarket operators should listen. For many years, Myers headed the advertising departments at Lucky Stores and Eagle Food Centers, formerly a subsidiary of Lucky. Today his firm provides advertising and marketing services to clients in manufacturing and the supermarket industry. In the following conversation, Myers offers his ideas for a more creative approach to supermarket advertising:

RAPHEL: Should the advertising head report directly to the CEO? How involved should a CEO be in setting direction in advertising?

MYERS: Over the years, I’ve worked both ways and I think the CEO should be heavily involved. The advertising manager should report directly to the CEO and the CEO should have direct responsibility for the advertising. A supermarket’s advertising can and should provide a vision for the whole company.

A lot of supermarket advertising today is still price and item based. Do you think supermarkets should change the way they advertise?

Yes. Supermarkets talk to each other more than they talk to the consumer. I think that is a consequence of not really standing for anything. Supermarkets react to what the other guy is doing. Retail advertising departments are always in a state of frenzy because they are reacting and turning out ads quickly. I think in advertising you need “think time” and you need “do time.” And the “do time” is always cut so short that even if you have talented people, they are forced into grinding out formatted, simple ads.

Do consumers actually compare one store ad to another in terms of specific items?

Perhaps some do, but your customers aren’t just waiting for your ads to come out on Wednesday to see what you have on special for the week. Consumers would rather see fewer, more powerful specials and bigger, more interesting ads than a typical, overloaded grocery ad.

Is price and item advertising generated by the deals that the buyers can get from the manufacturers or is it generated by a consistent store policy?

A big percentage is generated by the deals and the amount of co-op money. But a lot of what supermarkets put on the front page of an insert are really good hot items that are going to draw traffic. When you get inside, then it is a lot of deal merchandise.

What are some other ways to advertise besides price and item?

If you are going to stand for something, if you are going to have the best meat program or the best produce program, then you have a story to tell and you can drive your business with that department or with that category. Take the EDLP program that Lucky originated in 1963 and the Miracle Price Program Eagle did in the ’60s. At the time, the programs were new. What they did was roll back prices to where there was a distinct difference to separate them from other supermarkets. Their pricing programs made them stand out in the marketplace.

Let’s talk about your Five Star program. How did that originate and how did you advertise that program?

The Five Star program was the answer to a unique image problem. Lucky’s beef program had rigid specifications for the selection of beef by the company’s buyers. Each cut of beef was bonded (guaranteed), and in the early days one of Lucky’s owners signed every bond. Over the years, bonded beef began to be perceived as a grade of beef. Research showed that the perception of quality was less than choice.

We had to upgrade Lucky’s beef image. I came up with the Five Star concept one night on a red-eye flight from California. When people think of Five Star, they think of top quality (five star movies, five star meals). The Five Star program was intended only to cover beef, but was expanded and became an umbrella for the entire meat department.

How did you launch the program?

It was a total marketing effort. We put nearly a full year of planning into the program. Lucky made a long-term commitment to the Five Star program. We had plenty of “think time.” All the details of the program were put together in guidebooks, brochures and videotapes. Every employee had to see a 45-minute videotape on the program. The Five Star campaign was launched in all of Lucky’s stores across the country on the same day.

Did you do it all based on faith that it would work or did you do any market research?

The research showed that the company had a poor meat image. Research directs you toward what you should do but can’t tell you that the creative is right. There was no testing. It was just gut instinct that it was going to work. Luckily it did. Tracking studies showed that the advertising helped enhance the image of the entire store, a residual benefit we hand’t anticipated.

What are some of the other campaigns you worked on that you thought were successful and were not price and item based?

We came up with the Eagle Kids concept. The idea was to have kids write in and tell us why they thought they were the perfect Eagle Kid. The top 10 winners appeared on a TV commercial and received a $1,500 savings bond for college. The program generated material for some memorable ads and TV spots.

How can a supermarket operator determine how much of the gross sales budget to allow for advertising?

I don’t think there is a formula. The average chain will spend anywhere from 1% to 1.5% for advertising. A lot depends on how the company dominates a market. If you have a company with a couple hundred stores concentrated in one area, you can keep the percentage way down.

Is there a mix of TV, radio, newspaper and direct mail that’s right or does it vary?

It varies. If you are an Iowa-based chain, you can dominate the market with television, not spend a heck of a lot of money and do a fine job. But if your chain is based in or near Chicago and you only have a few stores, you can’t afford to be on Chicago television, so you look for other ways to advertise. The mix is determined by your objectives and available ad dollars.