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Admarketing Sticks to Basics to Get the Message Across for Its Clients

Times Staff Writer

When a national magazine recently published a story about West Coast advertising agencies stealing the creative thunder from some old-line Madison Avenue firms, Los Angeles-based Admarketing was predictably absent from the article.

Although it is among the city’s largest independent agencies--with about 40 clients and 1984 billings of $160 million--Admarketing is philosophically in a league all its own. At a time when West Coast agencies such as Chiat/Day of Los Angeles and San Francisco-based Foot, Cone & Belding are filling their shelves with creative awards, Admarketing maintains a meat-and-potatoes approach that is as straightforward as its name.

“Admarketing doesn’t have the famous reputation of the 200-year-old advertising agencies like J. Walter Thompson or the more exciting image of a Chiat/Day,” President Jack Roth said of his agency’s failure to be noted in the March 4, 1985, Newsweek. “We get hired when there are real problems. And it tends to be in the toughest situations and the toughest industries.”

Helped Save Airline

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Admarketing rescued AirCal of Newport Beach from almost certain closure in September, 1982, when it jettisoned AirCal’s “we got style” campaign to successfully market the airline as a low-cost carrier. So strapped was the airline, that it had to assemble new commercials from old AirCal film footage.

The old campaign, explained Roth, 48, “gave them (AirCal) a pricey image. We urged them to make aggressive retail moves to get people in the planes.”

To solve the larger problems of the airline, which lost $35.6 million in 1982, Admarketing introduced the slogan, “We make flying easy,” to stress the simplicity and convenience of flying on AirCal. “Single call service” reservations and “almost first-class service” were touted in straightforward ads--whose chief creative distinction, admits Roth, was the prominent display of AirCal’s toll-free reservations number.

“What they (Admarketing) did was vital to our company,” said Arlynn Whittaker, AirCal’s director of marketing. “They’ve got an incredible strategic side to them that a lot of agencies don’t have. It’s not just how you package a message but the strategy behind the whole plan.” AirCal has become a profitable company, with net income of $4.6 million for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 1984.

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Admarketing took a similar hard-nosed approach with Culver City-based C&R; Clothiers--a company that was already the top men’s clothing retailer in the Los Angeles area. One ad shows posters of two well-dressed men with price tags beside them showing that the C&R; suit is less expensive than the department store suit. After detailing the similarities in quality, an announcer intones: “It’s time you knew the truth.”

Philosophical Split

In an era when competition from cable-television programs and videocassette machines are making it tougher for advertisers to hold viewers’ attention, Admarketing’s campaigns point up the philosophical split between proponents of haut monde advertising versus those who favor less costly, traditional spots.

It is a perennial debate, experts say, that ebbs and flows with the nation’s general economic fortunes. During tough economic times, creativity goes on the wane as companies grow conservative about spending their advertising dollars; when the economy grows stronger, companies seem more magnanimous.

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“Creativity is in style in 1985,” proclaims John Ferrell, executive vice president and creative director for New York-based Young & Rubicam, who is scheduled to give a speech on the topic in August at the 28th annual Advertising Age creative conference in New York. “Clients and agencies alike are rediscovering the power of presenting great ideas in an exciting and provocative way.”

Leonard S. Matthews, president of the New York-based American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, also sees “a rising tide of creativity.”

“In the 1960s . . . the emphasis was on uninhibited creativity, with less concern with research,” Leonard said. “In this most recent situation--from the middle ‘70s to a couple of years ago--it was felt advertising was over-rational and the creative people started complaining they were being fenced in by too many rules.” Now some advertisers, said Leonard, are yearning for a return to those more conservative times.

Simpler Approach

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American Cyanamid executives, concerned about the high costs of producing ads, which typically run about $120,000 for a 30-second commercial, recently visited two of their agencies to show what they term “the good enough reel"--a tape of 12 commercials, the most expensive of which cost $50,000.

“We feel that most commercials are overproduced,” said James Gibbs, Cyanamid’s director of advertising services. “We are trying to get a meeting of the minds with our agency about the level of creativity we expect. This whole creative thing is out of control.”

Adds Dianne Thomas, vice president of advertising for C&R; Clothiers: “We expect advertising to bring people (in); that’s why we hired Admarketing. We weren’t interested in winning awards and neither were they.”

The debate has special significance in California, where billings at the state’s more than 225 agencies have been growing at nearly twice the rate of that of New York counterparts. From 1977 to 1982, says the most recent Commerce Department study of the advertising industry, net billings at California agencies soared by 122%, compared to 70% for New York firms.

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But elaborate special effects, fancy musical scores and longer shooting schedules are giving advertisers pause. The new techniques pushed the average cost of making commercials up 99% between 1979 and 1984, according to a recent study by the Assn. of National Advertisers. The time required to produce a typical ad increased to 13.3 hours in 1984 from 10.1 hours in 1979.

Ads Cost Less

The push to moderate production costs could benefit agencies such as Admarketing, which began in 1971 as a media buying service and still derives about 45% of its revenue from placing ads rather than creating ad campaigns. Admarketing, which has about 100 employees, makes commercials that generally cost about half the prevailing rates.

While one major airline recently spent more than $500,000 to fly a production crew around the world to film on-location shots, Admarketing dispatched a crew to Hollywood to shoot a commercial to spotlight AirCal’s frequent flyers program, which awards travelers overseas flights on Northwest Airline. The film achieved nearly the same effect as the major airline’s ad for less than $100,000, Roth said.

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“We had shots of a (traditionally dressed) Japanese lady and a German tavern, too, but it all happened on a studio back lot,” said Admarketing’s Roth, a one-time college philosophy major who went into the advertising business after selling an East Coast chain of family-style restaurants.

Such resourcefulness doesn’t impress some competitors.

“Telling isn’t selling,” said Dan Michel, senior vice president in the Los Angeles office of BBDO/West, a branch of one of the nation’s largest advertising agencies. “I think you are required to be as creative as you can because advertising appears within an entertainment medium. You can’t just say what your message is. You must do it in a compelling and involving way.”

“I don’t know much about them (Admarketing),” said Guy Day, vice chairman of Chiat/Day. “I don’t mean this as a put-down. . . . Over the last three years, I don’t remember them having a significant ad.”

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Haven’t Won Awards

Admarketing’s television ads haven’t won any major Clio awards--the advertising industry equivalent of an Oscar--or the locally prestigious Belding advertising award. Yet there is some evidence that creative innovation may have little influence on the effectiveness of a commercial.

In what its authors calls the most extensive study of its kind, David W. Stewart, associate dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and another researcher surveyed 300 viewers, who watched 1,059 commercials between 1981 and 1983, to determine what factors persuaded consumers to go out and buy products.

“The single most important factor was having something unique to say about the product,” Stewart said of his findings, scheduled to be published by the university this summer.

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“One of the classic and most successful ads,” explained Stewart, “is (Wendy’s hamburgers) ‘Where’s the beef?’ campaign. It made a very clear statement about the uniqueness of the product and got its message across.”

By contrast, Levi Strauss’ MTV-style “501 Blues” spots for jeans, which won a Clio in June for the best apparel advertising, “don’t work very well,” Stewart said. The ads are stylish, he noted, but they don’t indicate what sets Levi’s apart from other jeans.

Stewart acknowledges that creativity has a place in advertising. “There is no question there are exceptions to the general rules. That’s why people get paid to be creative.” But, he added, agencies need to “pay more attention to the message they are trying to get across.”


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