Extinction or Utter Despair: Which Path Do You Choose? Classic Jack Myers from 1993

12/17/2008 07:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ignore at your own risk. The path that our industry could have followed to avoid the current miasma was paved 15 years ago and ignored. Again, a vision for a successful future is clear, but most in the industry are again failing to act. The following commentary is reprinted from my 1993 book Adbashing: Surviving the Attacks on Advertising. Additional Classic Jack commentaries can be read at

From 1993: There is a great deal of confusion about the future of advertising and media. Some suggest the business is in crisis. Woody Allen described the situation that some of my colleagues believe we are now in:

"We are at a crossroads. One path leads to extinction and the other to utter despair. Let's hope we're wise enough to take the right path."

There is a third option and it lies in the word "opportunity." The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two characters: one for danger and the other for opportunity. By thinking our only paths are to extinction or utter despair, we are admitting that we, as an industry, cannot and will not change. All of our experiences of the past 100 years in the advertising and media business have conspired to make too many of us resistant to change. The fear of change is our most dangerous enemy in business today. More than ten years ago, in the 1981 issue of Marketing & Media Decisions Magazine, James Walsh, then the advertising manager for Merrill Lynch, wrote:

"The people who run the nation's media should consider moving 'Innovative Marketing' up on their list of priorities. Right now it seems to reside in about tenth place, well below sales, distribution, programming, ratings, circulation. But they probably won't do it. The attitude seems to be 'why change is a good thing. We're in the TV business or the publishing business and we know our business very well.'"

Walsh went on to call for "a lot of thought, hard work, creativity and a genuine concern for the advertiser's needs." It would be a fundamental error for those who have the opportunity to change to think that there is no better alternative to the present. Real and enduring growth for the advertising and media industries can result only from recognition of the need to respond to crisis by facing the dangers, taking the risks, and changing the very foundations upon which the industry has been built.

The crisis faced today in the advertising business is not driven by declining margins and shrinking profitability. Rather, it is caused by executives who respond tactically to these problems in an effort to build a more cost-effective structure instead of approaching their business with a visionary, strategic sense of the future. Executives are charged with the responsibility of being businesspeople, but very few are building their businesses. They are trying to build more cost-effective entities rather than building bridges to more profitable opportunities.

The issues for the future that we must address are the basic structural foundations that support advertising as a marketing tool and as a profession.

  • Can we shift from a measurement base dependent upon cost efficiencies to one based on effectiveness in meeting corporate marketing objectives?
  • Can we convert advertising to an accountability system based upon the bottom line rather than the bottom price?
  • Will traditionalists recognize the holy grail of frequency and begin organizing their media purchases based upon completely new patterns of advertising placement and distribution?
  • Is the media industry receptive to forming new relationships and rebuilding sales organizations to respond to changes in how and why decisions are made and who is making them?
  • Is the industry able to gain a perspective on its past and move sufficiently away from that past to gain a vision of the future?

Professionals in the marketing, advertising and media businesses can seek new opportunities to form more meaningful relationships with each other. Success in the future will be increasingly relational. In the past, companies have often mouthed the rhetoric of partnership. In the future, companies will be thrust into it. They must embrace new relationships if they are to succeed and grow. Marketers, advertising agencies and media companies will be increasingly linked to one another, dependent upon each other for the knowledge they require to accomplish their single objective: sales results for the marketer.

The path taken today by marketing, advertising and media executives is a critical one. Our economy has been built based upon the historic leadership and success of the United States as a marketing and communications force. As an industry we have a responsibility to assure that our media companies continue to receive the necessary funding to thrive financially. To achieve that end, their primary source of funding – advertising – must continue to be perceived as a viable, valuable marketing tool. The future of the advertising and media business is dependent upon the changes we make and the risks we take today.

2008 JM Comment: Unless executives of media and advertising companies embrace dramatic change today, they are certain to suffer the same fate as those companies that failed to adopt 15 years ago and have disappeared or are about to disappear.

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