Advertising industry, savvy with image, focuses on it own

What image comes to mind when you hear the word ``advertising''? Many Americans think of hucksters frantically touting their wares in 30-second TV spots. Others recall magazine or newspaper ads that shout the word ``free'' in large type -- but on closer inspection appear to be downright deceptive. Still others think of billboards cluttering the landscape.

Of course, it's true that, when queried, some recall advertising's informative role. But, unfortunately for advertising, this group rarely represents the majority opinion.

Advertising -- which is supposed to create and polish images -- itself has a chronic image problem.

The sensitivity of admakers to their own image problem is a matter of hardheaded business sense. After all, who is going to buy a product if the advertising for it is deemed unconvincing or offensive?

It's not too surprising, then, that the subject of advertising's marred image was uppermost on the minds of more than 700 ad agency and media executives last month at the 67th annual meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (``the Four-A's'').

John O'Toole, chairman of Foote, Cone & Belding and the Four-A's retiring chairman, reported on a year-long battle waged by this trade association to improve the public's perception of the role of advertising in the marketplace.

Last year's campaign was made up of half a dozen ads especially created for the Four-A's by Thomas J. McElligott, partner and creative director of Fallon McElligott Rice in Minneapolis. Many millions of readers have seen the ads. They have appeared in 37 publications to date.

``Actually, writing ads praising advertising is my second choice,'' Mr. McElligott told the Monitor recently. ``The best way to improve the image of advertising is to improve the advertising itself. On the other hand, some people have views about advertising that are simply untrue, and the purpose of our Four-A's campaign was to correct some of these misconceptions.''

Research bears out the negative views of advertising.

Jane Fitzgibbon, director of planning and research development at Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest worldwide agencies, notes that ``advertising has traditionally been the butt of criticism in the United States -- particularly television advertising, which, unlike print, interrupts and intrudes upon the viewer's chosen program.''

Ogilvy & Mather conducted a study comparing today's attitudes toward advertising with those revealed in a 1974 Four-A's report. More people today feel advertising insults the intelligence of the average consumer (72 percent, up from 60 percent in 1974), while fewer feel advertising presents an honest picture of products today (30 percent, down from 41 percent).

``The good news is that we're getting better at entertaining our audience,'' says Mrs. Fitzgibbon at Ogilvy & Mather, ``but commercials should entertain, because they are involving and relevant and therefore do a better job of selling. Entertainment per se is not the job of advertising.''

Louis T. Hagopian, chairman of N. W. Ayer, which calls itself the nation's oldest agency, is incoming Four-A's chairman. He focused his attention on business leaders, a segment he sees as particularly important to advertising.

``There is evidence that American business does not place the same importance on advertising as agency people do. There is also evidence that they regard it as playing a relatively minor role in increasing their volume and profit,'' Mr. Hagopian said.

Jim Johnston, chief executive of Jim Johnston Advertising, which is creating new print ads for the Four-A's, says the basic thrust this year is to ``communicate to business leaders that advertising is an investment that does indeed pay dividends. We want the business community to think of advertising as an essential business tool rather than a frivolous activity.''

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