In the advertising business, reputations can soar or plummet on the success or failure of a 30-second TV spot.
One week, a popular advertising campaign can bring kudos and turn its creators into pop-culture heroes. The next week, marketing people are derided as ruthless opportunists striving to manipulate helpless audiences. Most advertising professionals get to taste a little bit of both extremes.
Several new books provide some intriguing windows into the feast-or-famine world of the advertising industry:
INVENTING DESIRE, by Karen Stabiner (Simon & Schuster, 351 pp., $25) takes the reader along on a year-long visit to the headquarters of the Chiat/Day advertising agency in Venice, Calif.
Stabiner had broad access to meetings between advertising executives and clients. She was privy to the shop's internal deliberations and had daily conversations with top managers.
The year was one of wrenching change for Chiat/Day.
Jay Chiat - the mercurial captain of an extremely temperamental ship was attempting to smoothly pass the reins to younger executives. That challenge - to move to the next generation "without diluting the work for which the agency had become famous" - is one that is faced by companies across many industries.
Well-known Chiat/Day projects include the Energizer Bunny series, the NYNEX Yellow Pages campaign which hinged on puns on directory listings, and the 10-year-anniversary campaign for NutraSweet.
The volatility and complexity of the advertising business lends itself well to the kind of sustained observation Stabiner undertook. Though the book starts with an adulatory tone, Stabiner soon gets in close enough to show us the dirt under the organization's fingernails.
As Chiat/Day creates new advertising campaigns and presents them to clients on do-or-die deadlines, the atmosphere crackles. Stabiner conveys the excitement well.
MARKETING TO AND THROUGH KIDS, by Selina S. Guber and Jon Berry (McGraw-Hill, 234 pp., $24.95) sets out to show how marketers can effectively reach children. But the authors' premise is not that children are fodder for advertising's big guns. Guber and Berry contend that marketers should go directly to children for help in creating new products.
Marketing is "the process of finding a need that is not being met and creating a product that fills it," they write.
To get a direct line on the booming children's market, research firms go to places where kids congregate, such as shopping malls, to conduct interviews.
Researchers also are convening focus groups of young people to try to find out exactly what children want and need.
While adults have grown accustomed to being targeted by advertising, many people like to think of childhood as an age of innocence - unblemished by crass commercial considerations.
Guber and Berry open the blinds. With engaging anecdotes and research, the authors demonstrate how the advertising world has launched a full-court press for the hearts and minds of American kids.
The authors admit that for some people, marketing aimed at children "has become synonymous with exploitation."
Yet that is an "overly simplistic notion," they write, because "it ignores the changes that have taken place in our society."
As the traditional family structure has been torn apart, parents are involving children in decisions that were never before considered their purview.
The authors report that 70 percent of mothers work outside the home compared with a level of 30 percent as recently as 1980. As young children are called on to perform more of the household chores, they have more opportunities to influence buying decisions.
Children aged 6 to 14 spend more than $7 billion each year and influence between $120 billion and $150 billion of their parents' expenditures.
Of course, this buying potential is not being ignored. The authors point to one indicator of the growing advertising dollars targeted at children: The number of children's magazines has jumped from 85 in the mid-1980s to 160 today.
MARKETING WITHOUT MEGABUCKS: HOW TO SELL ANYTHING ON A SHOESTRING, by Shel Horowitz (Simon & Schuster, 384 pp., $12) is a scrappy and practical guide for a business owner or manager with limited means.
Horowitz is a true salesman for his ideas and provides detailed examples of what can be accomplished. Even the typically introverted manager who has only a small inclination in this direction should be able to try a few of his ideas.
The goal is for a company to cut through the "information deluge," or the din of other advertising impressions that threaten to engulf the one main message the firm is trying to push.
While Horowitz exhorts businesses to go after all the free publicity they can get from the news media, he also rails against the common pitfall of driving customers away once they are lured in.
The book's suggestions are not glitzy. They are ideal for would-be marketing mavens who just happen to be a little short on cash.