Magazine article Marketing

The Power Not the Glory

Magazine article Marketing

The Power Not the Glory

Article excerpt

Is this a decade of marketing nonentities? Are there celebrities in the making or do the 90s belong to star brands? Ben Abrahams goes in search of today's marketing heroes

There is less creativity in marketing these days. I hate the penny-pinching, holier-than-thou approach of the 90s," complained Rodney Fitch recently. "It is remarkable that so many people of my generation are still the movers and shakers in this industry. Where are all the exciting 90s types? Who is making waves now?" he asked.

And well he might. Fitch, lest you have forgotten, is one of those legendary figures from the sparkling 80s for whom the 90s have been decidedly flat.

In 1982, he was one of the first in marketing services to float his business on the stock exchange. It swiftly became the largest design group in the world and Fitch found himself among the richest 200 people in Britain. Then he lost the lot.

You might, therefore, think that his attack on modern-day marketing smacks of sour grapes. Whatever his motives, Fitch does raise an interesting question, or three. Has marketing become mean and unimaginative - more concerned with inputs than outcomes? Why are the big names of the 80s still the big names as we approach the millennium? And where is the cohort of equally impressive contemporary figures coming through to join them?

It will come as no surprise that Fitch's views receive hearty endorsement from other luminaries of the 80s boom. "Marketing for the most part is pedestrian and boring and so are marketers. They think they are sophisticated but they are slow and driven by the most banal things. They always seem to be fighting the last war," laments Wally Olins, chief of corporate design consultancy Wolff Olins.

Peter Wallis, head of marketing consultancy SRU and better known as Peter York, the high priest of the designer decade, puts a more temperate spin on the Fitch/Olins argument that marketing ain't what it used to be in the good old days.

"Marketing has changed," he agrees. "It has become more process driven. And there are a lot of rather grim-seeming activities because new developments are being driven by technology rather than personalities."

Although there can be no objective yardstick, there is little evidence to support the view that marketing really is less creative than it was ten years ago. Quite the opposite if you consider the challenges of congested markets, increased retailer power, media fragmentation and increasing consumer sophistication. It is clear that marketing is operating in a much more competitive environment and solutions to these problems seem to become ever more ingenious.

It is true, however, that marketing budgets have become more accountable, making the Flash Harry culture of the 80s seem crude and inappropriate. "It is in part a permanent consequence of the recession, which put pressure on clients to want more for less," says Kevin Parry, head of the marketing and advertising sector at accountants KPMG. "But it is also a sign of the discipline having matured," he adds.

Unlike the 80s, when marketing was only just beginning to be taken seriously as a business tool, Parry argues that "it is now a key driver of turnover growth". Large amounts of money can no longer be spent by young brand managers on a nod and a wink with no clear result in mind. "Marketing budgets are now nearly always approved in detail by main boards according to a clearly defined plan," he says.

It seems that marketing has been a victim of its own success. Having successfully established its claim to be a serious business discipline, it seems almost ludicrous for providers of marketing services to now complain that it has to submit to the disciplines of serious business.

That doesn't explain why the big stars in the industry are the same old suspects, whose names have been repeated seemingly ad nauseam over the past decade: Charles and Maurice Saatchi, Martin Sorrell, John Sorrell, Sir Tim Bell, Mike Greenlees, and so on. …

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