Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Loose Cannon: David Ogilvy, Soothsayer

"Does advertising corrupt editors? Yes it does, but fewer editors than you may suppose . . . the vast majority of editors are incorruptible."
David Ogilvy

Loose Cannon: David Ogilvy, Soothsayer
By Richard H. Levey

At the end of his book Ogilvy On Advertising, David Ogilvy makes 13 predictions about the future of marketing -- both direct response and non. (According to Ogilvy, he wasn't especially keen to make them, but "my publisher insists that I take a shot.")

More than 25 years have passed since Ogilvy On Advertising was first published. Now, the trick with predictions is not to put a time horizon on them -- eventually, most prognostications will come true. (If even more time passes, many will be rendered false again.)

With that in mind, here's a look at Ogilvy's Thirteen, with my 20/20 hindsight observations.

1. The quality of research will improve, and this will generate a bigger corpus of knowledge as to what works and what doesn't. Creative people will learn to exploit this knowledge, thereby improving their strike rate at the cash register.

Between the information culled through online mediums, which includes both transactional and behavioral data, and the development of more powerful computers that can analyze the data, the breadth of knowledge available to marketers is significantly wider than when Ogilvy wrote this. Additionally, psychographic and other attitudinal factors are increasingly used to differentiate prospects. 2. There will be a renaissance in print advertising.

In order for this to be true, there would have to be a renaissance in print. But both consumer magazine and newspaper readership rates have dropped considerably during the last quarter century. Online ad spending on media sites, while growing, has not made up for the loss.

3. Advertising will contain more information and less hot air.
The long-form direct mail letter is not currently in vogue. The text-heavy print ad is considered a quaint anachronism. And television commercials, according to my very random and highly unscientific sample, are more concerned with impressing viewers or clients with their own cleverness than imparting information. 4. Billboards will be abolished.
Billboards have become, if anything, more visually noisy with the light-emitting diode age. And there is a trend toward variable ads based on RFID chips in automobiles, which threatens to distract drivers from talking on their cell phones, programming their DVRs, applying their makeup, enjoying a mid-drive snack, or whatever else it is they do while giving the road ahead their attention.

5. The clutter of commercials on television and radio will be brought under control.

With the exception of children's television programming, there has been no legislative regulation on commercials within an average hour of television during the last 25 years. According to the 2001 Television Commercial Monitoring Report, networks tacked on about two-and-a-half minutes worth of commercials per hour during the 1990s. On the other hand, one of TiVo and other digital video recorders' biggest selling points has been that viewers are given -- tah dah -- control of commercial viewing.

6. There will be a vast increase in the use of advertising by governments for the purposes of advertising, particularly health advertising [the emphasis is Ogilvy's].

Ad Council and other pro bono or government- sponsored healthcare spending may not have boomed, but during the intervening years pharmaceutical firms have been allowed to advertise directly to consumers. This may not be within the letter of what Ogilvy predicted -- healthcare ads specifically sponsored by the government -- but the increase of such advertising has caused consumers to take more active roles in their health management. 7. Advertising will play a part in bringing the population explosion under control.

U.S. population in 1980: 226,542,199. U.S. population in 2000: 281,421,906. World population in 1980: 4,434,682,000. World population in 2000: 6,070,581,000. Where have the agencies been hiding the condoms? 8. Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising.

The recent Tennessee Senator's campaign, which featured a race-baiting ad aimed at Harold Ford, was one of the ugliest to run since Jesse Helms's "they had to give the job to a black candidate" spot. And both of those aired after Ogilvy's book was published. 9. The quality and efficiency of advertising overseas will continue to improve -- at an accelerating rate. More foreign hares will overtake the American tortoise.

Take a look at the top winners in international advertising competitions. There sure do seem to be a lot of non-American winners. But these contests tend to reward creativity and cleverness. DM-specific American ad clients are not willing to give up their sales-focused bent in favor of entertaining prospects. 10. Several foreign agencies will open offices in the United States, and will prosper.

Actually, they had done both before Ogilvy wrote this. Dentsu has been in American since 1966, for instance. Saatchi & Saatchi, which was founded in 1976 in London, has expanded throughout the world, and is now based in New York. And that's before one considers merger and acquisition activity, which makes an absolute hash out of what is and isn't a foreign agency, and what has and hasn't "opened" in the United States. Ogilvy's warnings on the encroaching nature of foreign agencies strike me as a product of the Cold War times in which he was making his predictions. 11. Multinational manufacturers will increase their market-shares all over the non-Communist world, and will market more of their brands internationally. The advertising campaigns for these brands will emanate from the headquarters of multinational agencies, but will be adapted to respect differences in local culture.

Current emerging markets are often spoken of as being part of the "BRIC" group of countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China. Remember also that Ogilvy made his predictions nearly a decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Regarding the increasing importance of international markets, Ogilvy was not only correct, but restrained. The second part of this prediction is the flipside of prediction 10: American agencies have increasingly realized the value of being not just "in language" but "in culture" as well, and have established satellite offices throughout the globe. As for the advertising campaigns being launched in headquarters and trickling down through local tributaries... smart marketers let the folks on the ground determine the plays, with headquarters' role reserved for setting general standards. 12. Direct-response advertising will cease to be a separate specialty, and will be folded into the 'general' agencies.

Ogilvy slammed it out of the ballpark on this one. There's nothing to add -- except for those who want to predict when the tail of DM will officially end up wagging the dog of general advertising. Anyone placing bets? 13. Ways will be found to produce effective television commercials at a more sensible cost.

As long as marketers allow consumers to create snack food spots on bare-bones budgets (as in the produced-by-the-public commercials that ran during the most recent Super Bowl), the costs will certainly drop. But the primary "way" that television commercials will be produced at more sensible costs will come from advertisers curtailing their budgets, and not from innovations: If agencies are given the dollars, the dollars will be spent.

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