Top positive review
WHICH MEDIA? CANNOT ANSWER THAT WITH A BLANKET NOTION.
on July 21, 2003
I recall reading an article in HBR that questioned the efficacy of traditional advertising and the humongous marketing budgets that are allocated to it. Pick up the book "HBR on Brand Management" and indeed the first case study addresses this issue. It _is_ a very pertinent, timely and important question: how to allocate your budgets across the different forms of marketing touchpoints? And there's ample evidence to show how media other than advertising lead to the phenomenal success of products.
Carrie Bradshaw, the protagonist of the hot HBO show "Sex And The City" spends more than she can afford from her journalist salary on Hermes Birkin bags and the whole world sends the brand (a simple bag for god's sake) into a waiting list of not weeks, not months, but 3 years! Michael Moore decides that he doesn't have the budget to market his next fabrication ("Stupid White Men") so he cultivates a clever little following through the use of online channels. A "big3" US automotive manufacturer creates a frenzy for its new product launch through a kiosk placed in a popular spot at Disney World and with a clever unprecedented campaign. Prada launches a classic architectural marvel of a store in NY and then gets a zillion journalists to write about it in business magazines, NYT, fashion magazines, architectural publications etc.
The common theme underpinning the success of these initiatives is that these novel marketing ideas, or PR, are inherently credible because consumers KNOW that the product's endorsement does not come from its vendor but from "trusted" third-party mavens in the society. Advertising on the other hand suffers from an intrinsic bias of hawking one's wares.
That, to me, is the crux of this all-too-important argument and the one that Ries & Ries intended to veer their book around.
HOWEVER, I am sorry to say that their endeavour is a mediocre one at best as they try to wrap a blanket around the question and suggest that ONLY public relations is the cassandra call that marketers need to heed. Doesn't tickle my fancies, sorry. The truth is not black or white. If Sony gives up all advertising and relies ONLY on creative little PR ideas to do ALL its marketing, it is anyone's guess what will happen to it in the medium to long run. It smacks of intellectual dishonesty to cite examples of doozy advertising campaigns such as the one from pets.com -- and conveniently skipping the pitfalls of unsuccessful PR -- to grind their one-sided axe. Doesn't really help their case that PR is not really "this new marketing strategy", it has just been used creatively by the examples they impose on the readers.
But this logical fallacy aside, the book also disappoints against the litmus of purely a decent casual read. Several cliches line the text ("sky's the limit", "throw gasoline on fire"), as do unbelievable exaggerations ("Every brand that got to the top got there through PR" -- I dont think so, sorry).
For a much more succint yet compelling treatment of this subject, I recommend the first chapter of the book "HBR on Brand Management" which talks about media allocations. For the practice of PR in general, you'd be better off reading the much more balanced "The Practice of Public Relations" by Fraser Seitel.