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Published August 2006

Tear down marketing walls
to create high-impact,
multimedia messages

The biggest enemies to improving marketing return on investment are the walls built around marketing disciplines.

Many marketing departments are organized in ways that absolutely guarantee a lower-than-possible return on dollars invested in communication programs. Some major advertising agencies preach integration, yet when you look under the hood, you find vaporware.

The prevailing concept of integration is separate ad agencies, Web design firms, direct-marketing firms, sales promotion specialists and public relations firms. Each of those firms within an agency group is rewarded ONLY for their bottom lines, and people within each operating unit are punished if they don’t reach their constantly growing financial goals.

Case in point: The lead story in the June 19, 2006, edition of Advertising Age declared that chief marketing officers today have just 23 months to live. With news like this, how can marketers step boldly and think aggressively about how to involve other disciplines?

A short time ago, my team talked with a major Los Angeles retail organization that was expanding into the Pacific Northwest. Their six Northwest locations — which recently opened — were not generating the kind of success that the firm was seeing in other regions. They wanted a marketing firm to help them immediately increase sales. It didn’t take a lot of research to understand that this particular retailer’s business was influenced greatly by the weather.

Since their experience was primarily in the warm Southwest, they didn’t know how to adjust their marketing program. Under normal circumstances, the problem wasn’t really much of a challenge. Research showed that most consumers in this category gather information using the Web to make a retail decision.

Strategy No. 1 would normally be to segregate regional Web visitors and develop special messaging to address the issue. “Nope,” said the retailer. “One of our owners runs operations and is in charge of the Web site. Marketing has absolutely no access to the Web site messaging.”

“But, surely, we can at least talk to the Web site team and discuss this?” we asked.

“I’ve tried. And it is their turf. Life is too short to try again,” said the retailer. The subject was over. Door closed. You can see where this is going.

Another recommendation was to improve the direct-mail program: “OK. As long as you don’t change our offer. It has taken months to get all the departmental approvals to agree on that.”

Strategy No. 2 was to change and upgrade the messaging to showcase the unique benefits of the offering: “I would love to, but I need to get the approval of each of the retail location managers, and we don’t have enough time to go through that.”

Strategy No. 3 was to track results of each discrete program: “We have no system for doing that. And we are forbidden from touching the Web site.”

This is a true story. And while it is a completely absurd example of one company’s messed-up marketing organization, this is a successful company that spends tens of millions of dollars on marketing nationally. How much more successful could they be if all the tools of marketing were deployed as a strategic whole?

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the new Lymon campaign by Sprite. In years past, the introduction of a new beverage would involve saturation television, highly visible outdoor advertising and strong retail sales promotion. The awareness campaign would be achieved through paid media. If kids liked the commercial, they would try the new soda.

This new campaign is perhaps the smartest example in the world today about what happens when marketing departments have access to ALL the tools in the arsenal.

The cornerstone of the campaign is the most amazing Web site. Part game technology, part television and part mystery, it is an experience to behold. Check it out at www.sublymonal.com.

Television is used sparingly to attract kids to the site. The agency decided to beat TIVO by inserting single-frame code words in the commercials (Subliminal advertising!). Then, they spread the word about this through blogs. Kids are viewing the commercials frame by frame to find codes that take them to secret parts of the Web site.

The campaign also uses two-minute theater commercials to reach the target audience. Most of the campaign’s impact does not use paid media in traditional ways. The viral campaign component is impossible to calculate. It is brilliant use of word-of-mouth.

Break down those walls in your marketing departments and in your advertising agencies to create high-impact, memorable and meaningful new media combinations that deliver results that span far beyond organizational boundaries.

Bill Fritsch, a longtime leader in Seattle’s ad industry, is president of Hydrogen Advertising. Call him at 206-389-9500, Ext. 224, or send e-mail to bill@hydrogenadvertising.com.

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© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA