Previous month:
October 2007
Next month:
January 2008

It's the power, stupid!

Soeren Kern, writing in the American Thinker, makes some valid points about anti-Americanism.  For example, that it's been around in one form or another since Colonial says.  That it won't evaporate when a new president moves into the Oval Office.  And that it's a reaction to American power rather than  U.S. foreign policy.American_thinker

But then he goes off the deep end in predicting what it will take to restore America's reputation around the world.  "For starters," he writes, "the next American president would (for starters) have to relinquish all use of military force, surrender US sovereignty to the United Nations, adopt a socialist economic model, abolish the death penalty, accept an Iranian nuclear bomb, abandon US support for Israel, appease the Islamic world in a high-minded 'Alliance of Civilizations'... and so on."

Kern's purpose is undoubtedly to erect a straw man he can quickly knock down.  But power and respect (or even affection) are not mutually exclusive. In fact, America had all three following World War II.  The difference then -- and for the next 45 years -- was that the U.S. worked cooperatively with other nations in addressing global problems, took their interests into account, and considered itself a leader among the community of democracies -- not the only game in town.  It's not having power that evokes jealousy and resentment; it's how power is exercised.

Fearful Superpower

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria traces the roots of anti-Americanism to fear -- not that of other countries towards us, but our fear of the rest of the world. He warns that that fear will not necessarily subside when a new president moves into the Oval Office. Fearful_superpower

"Ever since the (9/11) attacks," he writes, "the United States has felt threatened and under siege and determined to carve out maximum room to maneuver. But where Americans have seen defensive behavior, the rest of the world has looked on and seen the most powerful nation in human history acting like a caged animal, lashing out at any and every constraint on its actions."

The presidential primaries give Zakaria little reason to believe attitudes will soon change.  "Republicans are falling over each other to paint an atmosphere of dire threat that requires strong, even brutish action to protect the American people. Democrats, while far less guilty of fearmongering, have been afraid to combat this hysteria."

It's a compelling argument.  Read more here.

Re-bundling Anyone?

In researching my new book on marketing, I’ve interviewed the heads of major industry associations, the top executive recruiters specializing in CMO searches, and advertising veterans on both the agency and client side.  They all agree that marketing has never been more challenging.  Media has fragmented, consumers have unprecedented control over their sources of entertainment and information, and technology is undermining the business models of old. No one knows where it’s all going. None of that is too surprising.  I would have heard the same thing five or even ten years ago.  Though perhaps with less panic in their voices.

But what may be different now is a pervasive belief that intellectual capital in marketing has moved from agency to client.  Clients have always been in charge.  After all, they pay the bills.  But most of them leaned on their agencies for insight and counsel.  Apparently those days are gone. Big_idea

Some blame the rise of agency holding companies with their relentless focus on cutting costs and boosting earnings. Some blame the shortsightedness of clients who treat agencies like vendors of just another commodity.

They’re probably both right.  Both developments conspired to wring slack time out of the advertising process.  But it was in that slack time that Big Ideas took seed, germinated and blossomed.  “It’s hard to identify more than a handful of really breakthrough brand campaigns today,” one highly placed marketing executive told me.  “They’re all transaction oriented. Creativity has become focused on the short-term.”

I wonder if that’s not what lay behind yesterday’s announcement that Dell and WPP have agreed to build a new kind of agency to serve the computer maker’s global marketing needs. The new agency’s staff of more than 1,000 will handle marketing functions from creative, to media planning, to customer relationship management, and public relations. Only media-buying duties will be handled separately, so Dell can capitalize on the economies of scale that come from working with a buyer that handles many large media budgets.

This follows reports that Publicis is about to restructure itself into profit and loss centers by client brand.  The executive who Publicis believes best understands the brand will lead each client account.  Everyone else – whether an account manager at Saatchi, a creative director at Leo Burnett, or a media planner at Starcom – will report to that person.   As Ad Age reported last week, Proctor & Gamble is taking the same “re-bundling” approach on some of its brands at all four agency holding companies.

Maybe what depleted agency intellectual capital was the disaggregation of its capabilities into separate P&L centers focused not on clients, but on the agency’s own bottom line. Maybe re-bundling those capabilities around client brands will allow agencies to regain the critical mass they need to become expert in their own business again.