Plugging Away: Heart Attack and Vine

Plugging Away:Heart Attack and Vine-Richard LinnettWall Street does spill into Main Street - that's been demonstrated. As the stock market slides, mortgages slip into default, loans dry up and people get laid off. What about Madison Ave.? Does it meet up with Main Street somewhere down the road?

"Madison Ave. runs into Mars," says a marketing colleague of mine, answering my question with a nervous, cynical laugh. "There's, like, no connection at all," she says. Her business is drying up and she's not happy about it, but she's got some perspective.

Still, is that possible? Is the advertising industry so out of touch with "real" America that what hurts MadAve has no effect at all on ordinary people?

Like the financial markets, the advertising industry is beginning to hit its own crisis point. On the Avenue, as we all know, when a client's business slumps, the first department that gets whacked, even before public relations, is marketing. Publicis's media shop ZenithOptimedia, which regularly prognosticates on the state of advertising spending, just revised its ad growth estimates not just downward - it actually hacked them by more than half for 2008, and by two-thirds for 2009: According to Zenith, the U.S. advertising marketplace is now expected to expand only 1.6 percent this year and 0.7 percent next year, down from the agency's last forecasts, in June, of 3.4 percent and 2.6 percent for 2008 and 2009, respectively.

"Advertising budgets are going south," says David Chalfant, a branding expert who just launched Brand Matter, a new shop way off the beaten-Avenue in San Diego - which is pretty far south, by the way. "We just put out our shingle, just got some clients, got some campaigns off the ground, and boom, already the budgets are getting cut back. People are scared."

But does a downturn on MadAve signal a wrong turn on Main Street? And how can we measure the effect?

Perhaps there will be fewer commercials on television. Or inflatable rubber slides and paid attendees "stocking the pond" at so-called experiential events will disappear. Gatorade/Dentyne/Snickers/Monster drink samples will not get handed out at rock concerts and sports venues. Less spam. No pop-ups. In-your-face guerilla marketing stunts may vanish, like the legion of surfers who roamed the streets of Manhattan at rush hour on the morning of the premiere of the HBO metaphysical surfing show John from Cincinnati, their surfboards banging into passers-by. (The show tanked, by the way, despite the network's worst efforts.)

Hmmm. Does this really sound all that bad?

As the apparently popular TV show Mad Men (heresy alert: I find this costume drama maddeningly dull) clearly telegraphs, MadAve sells people stuff they really don't need, like cigarettes.

Is it scary, a world without advertising, or at least with a lot less advertising?

One brave soul has looked that prospect dead in the eye and come back with some positive insight, a silver lining. Go to the Web site of clever marketing blogger Joe Jaffe, also author of Life After the 30-Second Spot, and you'll find a PowerPoint presentation in which he admonishes advertising professionals, "Embrace a world without advertising. Get out of the advertising world and get into the world of content." Joe's point is that advertising is too expensive and out of touch with consumers, and it's time for brands to support content - stuff that entertains and appeals to consumers while also communicating a brand message. Joe's also into this idea of "conversation" marketing. It sounds like he wants to develop a rapport between brands and consumers and replace the old method of brands talking at consumers. I don't know exactly what this means in terms of execution, but it sounds great, and besides, Joe is convinced content and conversation are a lot more economical than traditional advertising. And he wrote this before the crash.

Say it is so, Joe! And Joe, when you get a moment, reset your GPS, drop the map of Madison and Vine, and see if you can find the intersection of Madison and Main for me. Thanks.

Richard Linnett is an independent marketing consultant who specializes in producing content through his company Hammer Down. (
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