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Tight Budgets Mean No-Frill Ads in 1992

In 1992, the sluggish economy will force most advertisers--even Eveready and its bunny--to march to a harder-selling tune.

That’s the consensus from interviews with a dozen of the nation’s top ad executives, who reveal that their clients have warned them to hunker down even further than this year. Advertisers will spend even less money to create and air ads, they say. And instead of entertaining us, ads will more aggressively be aimed at getting us to buy--pronto.

As a result of this no-nonsense approach, executives worry that most ads will rate a zero on the creative scale. “I’d say 1992 will make 1991 seem like the wild, old days,” said Jerry Della Femina, chairman of the New York agency Della Femina, McNamee.

Of course, some agencies hope to combine creativity with more targeted advertising in 1992.

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Eveready and its bunny will try to attract wider interest by focusing its efforts. To nudge up sales, Eveready will go after an elite audience that rarely views network TV. That’s why the rabbit will even pop up in National Geographic--rambling through print ads set in familiar tourist spots.

But like all advertisers, Eveready also wants to save money. “Everyone is trying to control costs,” said Bob Kuperman, president of the Venice agency Chiat/Day/Mojo, which creates ads for the battery firm.

Not every ad executive, however, agrees that spending will be tightened. The industry’s best-known prognosticator, Robert Coen, director of forecasting at New York’s McCann-Erickson, said Monday that ad spending--which has declined about 1.5% so far in 1991, the first contraction in 30 years--will rise 6.2% in 1992. He cited an economic recovery and promotion tied to the Olympics.

But that is still pitiful growth by recent standards.

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“The only truly successful marketing message in 1992 will be the message that helps sell the product,” said Carl Spielvogel, chairman of Hyundai’s New York agency, Backer Spielvogel Bates.

Adds Ken Olshan, chairman of Wells Rich Greene, which creates ads for Benson & Hedges cigarettes: “Clients are asking: What are we getting for our money?”

Many executives say that consumers must perceive some sort of added value from the products they buy in 1992.

The New York agency Bozell will trumpet, louder than ever, the air bags Chrysler puts in all domestic cars, said Charles D. Peebler Jr., chief executive of the agency. The ultimate added value, said Peebler, “is life.”

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Some ad executives say their clients will rely more heavily on special events and promotions. Others say ads will become even more simple--not just to cut costs, but to make certain the message is clear.

“Now is not the time for creativity for the sake of creativity,” said Graham Phillips, chairman of the New York agency Ogilvy & Mather. “We used to say advertising was a long-term proposition. That was wrong. The onus is on the rest of the industry to recognize that.”

Agencies that once had the luxury of creating feel-good image ads for clients are now being asked to make ads that produce sales.

“Accountability is more important now than it has ever been in the history of our industry,” said Jerry J. Siano, chairman of N W Ayer, which creates American Telephone & Telegraph ads. In 1992, he said, the long-distance carrier’s ads will try to show how the quality of AT&T; products “allows consumers to get more for their money.”

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Coca-Cola is more carefully focusing its ad efforts for 1992--and beyond. The soda giant recently hired Creative Artists Agency to help it link up with Hollywood’s mega-stars of the future. But the chief of Coke’s longtime New York ad firm is trying to put the best light on the forced marketing partnership with the Hollywood agency.

“The more input you have before ideas go down the funnel, the better,” said Robert L. James, chairman of McCann-Erickson.

Even the Dancing Raisins will be marching to a more defined message in 1992, said John B. Balousek, president of Foote, Cone & Belding. A new TV spot for the California Raisin Advisory Board uses them to position raisins as a healthier alternative to other snacks.

Most agencies are experiencing the same turmoil as their clients, said Herbert D. Fried, chairman of the Baltimore agency W. B. Doner. One of his clients, the Fish & Seafood Promotional Council, won’t advertise at all next year.

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The federally funded group, which promoted seafood consumption, was disbanded last month and so went its $4-million ad budget.

“Everyone is battening down the hatches,” said William G. Tragos, chairman of TBWA Advertising, which creates ads for Absolut Vodka. “I’d rather be in the movie business.”

But all hope is not lost. Sometime in 1992, “people will get tired of the absence of ads with creative daring,” said Keith L. Reinhard, chairman of DDB Needham Worldwide, which creates Volkswagen ads. “Then, maybe we’ll see some craziness break out.”

Briefly . . .

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Upper Deck Co. of Carlsbad has put its NBA basketball card ad business up for review, with six Southland agencies in the running . . . . The Los Angeles agency Davis, Ball & Colombatto is laying off at least 15 employees after recent client losses. But Davis Ball picked up $6 million in additional Donnelley Directory business from an East Coast agency.

Asher/Gould won the $6-million TV broadcast account for Freeman Cosmetics and the $2-million ad account for Wells Interiors . . . . Samuel Goldwyn Co. handed its ad account to J. Walter Thompson/Los Angeles . . . . After winning the $12-million Home Club account, Los Angeles-based Larsen Colby will add staff . . . . A pre-proposal meeting for the $250,000 Port of Los Angeles ad account attracted 68 agencies to San Pedro last week.


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