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Integrated Marketing: the raw onion sandwich?

Novelist Julian Barnes once pondered 'Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that's too grand, too considered a process. History just burps, and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago.'

For those of us who observed the trends, fads, follies and fancies of the agency scene over the past four decades, that old raw-onion taste keeps coming back - especially when we hear the magic mantra, 'integrated marketing'.

What is integrated marketing? Newfangled snake oil? Or shirtsleeve commonsense?

Chicago's Northwestern University defines it with splendid vaguery as: 'Nothing less than the management of all organizational communications that builds positive relationships with potential customers and stakeholders, including employees, legislators, the media, the financial community, and other segments of the public.'

But what is it?

For a nuts-and-bolts explanation, I cite with due modesty the definition offered by Provocateur to students at London's Institute of Direct Marketing back in the distant days when he had a proper job. To quote from yellowing notes: 'Integrated marketing is the fusion into common end - of the appropriate marketing disciplines. Specifically: traditional media advertising (TV, radio, print, outdoor); public relations; direct marketing (direct mail, telemarketing, response-marketing; data-based marketing); and sales promotion (including point-of-purchase display).'

As it was four decades ago, it is today - plus the online interactive element. In the decades between, there was upheaval.

Forty years ago, media advertising was king (as to a lesser extent it is still). But back in the 1960s, the subsidiary disciplines and their practitioners were viewed as disreputable second cousins twice removed by the alumni of Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge and Yale who lunched their way through the more charismatic chore of creating and sustaining brand images.

In the era of the Beatles, a legion of below-the-line artisans toiled where the carpets ended in Madison Avenue, Mayfair and the Champs Elysees, penning direct mail copy and buying mailing lists; while in adjoining cubicles quondam travelling-salesmen sweated over prosaic promotions such as BOGOFs, consumer contests and money-off coupons.

In that distant time there were few, if any, specialist below-the-line agencies. But then the world twirled a few thousand turns and as the 1960s encroached upon the 1970s the listbuyers and quondam salesmen realized, Spartacuslike, they had learned a thing or three about the business of moving product:

  • That their work- unlike most advertising - was 100% accountable.
  • That direct marketing and sales promotion need not necessarily be confined to mailshots and shelf-talkers.
  • That...'hey, what if we used one of those computing gizmos to store information on folk who have bought (or might buy) our product?

But the agencies remained oblivious of these arcana. And the artisans grew restive and dreamed of freedom, share options and their own names above the door. And thus it came to pass that a trickle, then a torrent of trendily painted new doors opened in the less salubrious parts of town and in the rural strongholds of two continents. Above these portals were names such as Brann, Rapp Collins, Callegari Berville, and Trenear Harvey Bird & Watson - all of whom bought suits and learned how to get the best tables in overpriced restaurants with foreign names.

Fate smiled upon these specialist shops. They proliferated and prospered through the 1970s and 1980s while clients learned the hard way during three recessions that there were alternative, more measurable and often most cost-effective ways of moving product than 30 seconds of primetime TV.

And the mainstream shops - certain this was no more than a passing fancy - did zilch. Until two Damascene revelations hit home. It took time for them to sink in, but neither could be ignored, even by heads cemented into the sand.

First, that conventional shops were losing megabucks as clients shifted spend out of traditional media and into the new breed of agencies that not only delivered 100% quantifiable results but also revolutionary new bottom-line data on who, what and where their best customers were.

The second and equally shocking revelation was their largest clients - most of which had operated on a global basis since the 1950s - now expected their agencies to do likewise.

These revelations culminated in frantic action throughout the 1990s. The traditional shops went into overdrive, buying back at inflated prices the talent they had neglected over the proceeding three decades, initially as standalone bt-l subsidiaries, then melding them with other units of the parent agency as the magic mantra 'integration' swelled into a planetwide chorale.

At the same time, urged on by investment banks and speculative investors, national agency groups engaged in a worldwide orgy of cannibalism.

As 2001 morphed into 2002, virtually every major national and multinational account was commandeered by one or another of the global Big Ten agency groups, between them accounting for $38,094 billion in annual gross income. Of this sum, an eye-watering 74.3% ($28,320 billion) was controlled by just four behemoths - WPP, Interpublic, Omnicom and Publicic/Bcom3.

Raw-onion sandwich, anyone?


unknown, Admap. October 2002

Copyright © World Advertising Research Center 2002. All rights reserved.