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Today, Stuart Elliott reported in the New York Times:

General Mills will let its two principal agencies, Campbell
Mithun
and Saatchi & Saatchi, determine the media in which ads run and
which agencies will create them, in a bottom-up approach.
Previously, the
approach was top-down as brand managers at General Mills coordinated those
efforts, working not only with the principal agencies but also with agencies
that produced online, retail and minority campaigns.

The goal is “to make sure a campaign, from the get-go,
is media neutral, going to the best place for that brand,” Mr. [Mark]
Addicks [General Mills’ CMO] said. Media neutral means that ads run where they belong most, rather
than in outlets predetermined by tradition or the size of a commission.

First, I commend General Mills’ CMO for recognizing that he
has a problem. Here’s a man who’s
investing over half-a-billion dollars a year on his various brands and he’s
seeing that the returns just aren’t there.  However, everyone take note: This is a stop-gap measure at best
that—I predict—won’t effectively address the real problems that the company’s
marketing organization is working to overcome, i.e., to “adapt to the new-media
landscape as it tries to reach consumers using nontraditional approaches like
the Internet, e-mail marketing and branded entertainment.” Mark, it’s no longer simply about getting
the media placements right.

Based on this article, it sounds like the brand management
teams are ceding complete control to their agency. Are they so flummoxed by the changes in the marketplace—user
generated content, declining effectiveness of TV ads, overall fragmentation,
etc.—that they’ve thrown in the towel?

More importantly, I’d be surprised if a big advertising
agency could pull off large-scale integrated marketing campaigns. They’re just not built that way. I understand that they’re all frantically
trying to build their capabilities in integrated communications, but I’ll dare
say that none of the big shops are there yet. For them, “integration” still means tying in the same look and feel
through TV, print and online.

It’s clear from the second paragraph in the above quote that
“media neutral” is being used in the narrow advertising sense. Just because an ad doesn’t go on TV doesn’t
make it a media-neutral solution. True
media neutrality implies a focus on engaging consumers through multiple
touchpoints. A better term would be
“channel agnostic,” since that, to many integrated marketers, takes into
consideration the entire range of options within the marketing toolkit: Not
just ads, but also events, Internet, direct marketing, trade programs, field
marketing, branded entertainment, promotions. Maybe the folks at Campbell Mithun and Saatchi are the exceptions but,
in general, ad guys/girls are incapable of both having these conversations and
effectively driving cross-functional integration.

Enough about problems and mistakes. In my next post, I’ll propose some possible
solutions.

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Posted by Rob Fields