MADISON Avenue is stepping up efforts to help marketer clients determine how consumer attitudes and behavior are changing after the terrorist attacks.
Advertising agencies have always sought to provide advice on important matters to clients in stressful times, but in recent years they have been partly usurped in that role by outsiders like management consultants. The haste with which marketers need fresh data on rapidly changing consumer moods and the budget cutbacks that reduce money for hiring consultants are helping agencies regain a more prominent role.
"Now is the time to aim higher, to do some of the work of consultants, which our clients can no longer afford," Keith Reinhard, chairman at DDB Worldwide in New York, part of the Omnicom Group, wrote in a memorandum to all agency employees. "Now is the time to translate our vast knowledge of our clients' businesses into workable business-building ideas."
The approaches agencies are taking are varied. For instance, the McCann-Erickson World Group is undertaking a periodic series of reports under the McCann Pulse name, devoted to monitoring consumer reactions and the implications in the United States and around the world.
The Grey Global Group is posting on its Web site (www.grey.com) a series of "white papers" addressed to advertisers under the Grey Matter moniker that will be updated as developments warrant. The myriad topics so far include "Emerging Attitudes: One Month Later" to "The Impact of Anthrax on Direct Mail" to "Rebuilding the Film Community in New York."
And Euro RSCG Worldwide is conducting surveys first in the United States, then overseas intended to discern short- and long-term shifts in consumer attitudes.
"We mobilized our network: `Drop whatever else you're asking about, the latest Nescafé coffee or movies or fashion, and ask about this,' " said Joseph Plummer, director for brand strategy on global brands at the World Group in New York, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.
One finding of the qualitative surveys conducted in 38 countries that Mr. Plummer said surprised him was "the intensity of the negative response to the packaging and `branding' by the media" of the coverage of the terrorist attacks, "not just here but in the rest of the world also."
"It created a media-circus feeling," he added, referring to the decisions by television networks to bestow hyperbolic titles upon their reports like "America Under Attack." According to the McCann Pulse report, respondents said that the "flashy graphics and instant replays" made "an overwhelmingly powerful news event" seem "like the Olympics of Terror."
Another surprise, Mr. Plummer said, was "the requests by consumers to see advertising again" after the initial coverage of the attacks ran without commercials on many TV networks and without adjacent advertisements in many magazines and newspapers.
"They aren't always kind to advertising," Mr. Plummer said of consumers, "but they said that if advertising came back, it would be one more sign to them of trying to get on with it."
Perhaps "the biggest surprise of all," Mr. Plummer said, "was how people talked about this event reminding them of how much they took for granted or how important the little things are: reading bedtime stories to the kids, saying goodbye to a loved one in the morning and expecting to come home at night."
The implication of that finding for marketers, he added, was "that quiet and simple advertising can connect with people right now; it doesn't have to be shocking, overproduced, bizarre."
A similar point was made in a white paper on the Grey Web site, "We're Living in Different Times, With a Different Sensibility," by Steve Novick, vice chairman and chief creative officer at Grey Global.
"Now more than ever, it is critical to find an honest, fundamental emotional link to your brand and develop it," Mr. Novick wrote. "People want to feel more connected to one another, and they may also take comfort in their emotional connections to certain brands."
He added, "Without this, the brand is vulnerable and this is just the moment when people will turn to generic products."
Another direction in which consumers may turn is toward what the authors of a second Grey Matter white paper, "A View from Europe," called "terror hedonism."
As suggested by behavior during World War II, "there is another side of this new sense of community and longing for security," wrote two executives at the London office of the Grey Worldwide division of Grey Global, Clare Rossi, executive planning director, and Peter Jones, group managing director.
"Put at its simplest, it is that if people feel they may not be here tomorrow, they might as well party," Ms. Rossi and Mr. Jones wrote. "It's also about shopping, which will remain a massive and emotionally critical element of many people's lives."
The urge to shop was confirmed by a tracking poll described in a third white paper, "Opinions on News Coverage, Entertainment and Advertising," by Jon Mandel and Dene Callas, co-managing directors at the Mediacom division of Grey Global.
"Most shopping respondents say they plan to spend as much this year as last," they wrote. "However, even the discussion of spending plans is done cautiously."
Another important result of the poll is the emergence of "media consumers who are vigilant `news seekers,' who want to ingest volumes of information," Mr. Mandel and Ms. Callas wrote. "It will be interesting to see if it continues."
If it does, intensity of interest may vary between the sexes, as suggested by the results of the Euro RSCG Worldwide survey, called American Monitor.
"The most surprising thing to me were the differences between men and women," said Marian Salzman, worldwide director for strategic planning at Euro RSCG Worldwide in New York, part of Havas Advertising, "because for a decade I've worked under the assumption men and women were coming closer together on hopes, dreams, needs."
"Women say they are more inclined to change their lives" after Sept. 11, Ms. Salzman said, "and are less interested in traveling; women with children are even less interested than women without."
And women "are more dovish," she added, as evidenced by a finding that more women than men 20 percent compared with 9 percent said they preferred "that the United States pursue diplomatic and other peaceful means of combating terrorism" and more men than women 63 percent compared with 54 percent said they would support the decisions made by the federal government "including a full-scale war against countries that harbor terrorists."
Another surprising finding of the American Monitor survey, Ms. Salzman said, was that "people said they returned to their TV sets to experience everything in real time, with the Internet a great secondary source for confirmation."
"We'd gone so far in dismissing the role of TV" in disseminating information, she added, "but it should not be underestimated."
By STUART ELLIOTT, The New York Times October 19, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.