At several places, and among several professionals, there is a myth doing the round that Advertising is dead and Public Relations is growing in its place! This hype is a result of the new book by legendary Al Ries and his daughter Laura Ries titled “The Fall of Advertising. The Rise of Public Relations.” Everyone who has read the book seems to have taken it seriously. And the PR people have got into an ecstasy about this, and how it will impact them personally, their work and their (usually branded as gin and tonic) profession!

The myth needs to be struck down and exploded. It is has wrongly been blown up and is totally misleading and untrue - more so in India. If advertising is dead, or dying, then the several hundred ad agencies in India are dead. Media like newspapers and TV channels are dead as they survive largely on advertising revenue. Further thousands of suppliers and vendors of support services to advertisers and ad agencies are dead. Is this true??

What about our own new creative “lions” of Cannes and Clio like Pyush Pande and Prasoon Joshi, and the other budding creative and star agency managers - are they out of jobs? Will they be dead? All of them are actually alive and kicking and growing in status and money. Agencies, media, and people, they will exist and grow as long as there are consumers, products, and competition. In India, advertising is essentially economy related. There are, and will be, periodic ups and downs in our national economy which will affect industry. But to say advertising is dead or dying is being somewhat naïve. Advertising will continue to be a force in fulfilling and meeting consumer needs and promoting products and services.

Advertising is the Wind and PR is the Sun!
Al Ries and Laura Ries in their book relate an Aesop’s fable about when the wind and the sun had a dispute in heaven over who was stronger of the two! Seeing a traveler walking down the road, they decided to settle the issue by trying to make the traveler take off his overcoat.

The wind went first, but the harder it blew, the more closely the traveler wrapped his overcoat around himself. Then the sun came out and began to shine. Soon the traveler felt the son’s warmth and took off his coat. The sun had won! Al Ries and Laura Ries call Advertising the wind and PR the sun, saying advertising is perceived as an imposition, and an intruder in the consumers thinking and behaviour. The harder the sell, the harder the wind blows! This is exactly what advertising says to a prospect, don’t pay any attention to me, I am an advertisement! Once in a while if the prospect drops his or her guard, then advertising will succeed. But not often, according to Ries & Ries.

On the other hand for PR, they add, you can’t force the media to run your message or communication. All you can do is to make sure your publicity material is informative and helpful to the readers or viewers (and now surfers). Also the prospect does not perceive any force in an editorial message. Rather it offers greater credibility, as prospects think media are helping them to think appropriately in respect of the product, idea, or a situation.

“Advertising uses the big bang. PR uses the slow build-up. It’s a big job that advertising is unsuited for and PR is a much better choice!” say Ries.

Shrinking role of the Ad Agency!
Another possible reason for the myth that advertising is dead, or dying, may be the fact that the ad agency’s role today has shrunk somewhat. With some of the integrated and core services of the agency, like media planning and buying, marketing research, promotions and events, public relations and direct marketing, being outsourced by clients. Each of these becoming external profit centres, and some even competitors of ad agencies.

Professionals like me, however, are of a strong opinion that in reality the opposite is true. And to make my point effectively, I will put forth here a few arguments that will attempt to put things the right perspective. Advertising is essential and so also PR, but in their own rightful place with their respective objectives and playgrounds. In the broad sense what one can read and interpret Al Ries and Laura Ries far reaching claim that advertising is “market led.” Which is entirely true. If they believe marketing is dead, then indeed advertising is dead! I will go by that too. One then does not have to argue or do research for this!

But taking words (paragraphs) from Al Ries and Laura Ries’ own book, “The Fall of Advertising. Rise of Public Relations,” I will like to point out that they contradict themselves by defending advertising, by talking about its new role today! For instance:

For instance, first, the aspect of maintaining the brand. Al Ries and Laura Ries state that advertising is brand maintenance. Broadening the brand. Reinforcing the leadership positioning - as in the case of Viagra in the US.

Second, that advertising keeps products and companies on course. They give examples of how advertising brought back on course brands like Coke, Amazon.com, Polaroid, Xerox and Kodak. All big names and with heavy ad spends.

Third, about “firing on all cylinders” wherein they emphasize that advertising builds brands slowly, requires patience and methodology. Shooting star brands are exceptions and fizzle out.
How clearly this disproves the hypothesis that advertising is dead! It is therefore only confusing things in a high profile book.

My three-point philosophy

I have my own philosophy in the matter.

I will like to start off by reminding ourselves about a few things and situations.
Nirma detergent brand knocked the bottom of leader Surf at a given point of time. Surf came out of the difficult situation, and was back on course by firing on all cylinders, with advertising - Lalitaji and her “samajdari ki baat” in print and TV media.

Liril was built as a brand, as we all know, in a competitive market through and with advertising. Its promise of freshness and invigorating bath outdoors! Supported with a catchy jingle, and a strong product performance.

So did Onida TV (envy appeal), Frooti (the fun mango drink), Maggie Noodles (the two minute noodles), Charms Cigarettes (denim look), Kama Sutra condoms (bold sex), and a host of others.
 
Advertising plays a major role in marketing and in our daily lives as a consumer and prospect for products and services. Can advertising therefore die, or be replaced by PR? No, never!

However, if anything, I think the role of advertising has changed. What is dead is BADADVERTISING - bad advertising. Mediocre advertising is dead. It died with my father’s death in the 1970s. He coined this slogan then at an Ad Club speech in Mumbai.

Advertising is a tease! How good or bad it is depends on the knowledge you have of it and it is practiced at ad agencies, clients and the marketplace. It is like the snake in the Garden of Eden, who sold the apple to Eve to entice Adam to eat the forbidden fruit! So how good was the advertising strategy of the serpent to be able to sell his apple, despite the consequences? So long as advertising is a medium of information and knowledge, it will never die. I say this just as David Ogilvy in his book “Ogilvy on Advertising” said

“I do not regard advertising as an entertainment, but as a medium of information. When I write an ad, I don’t want you to tell me that it is creative. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” Unfortunately, today’s advertising has gotton to be more entertaining, and thus it is often hard to tell what companies are advertising.
Hence, in my view, advertising is not dead and cannot die, but creativity can! It can wear off, it can go off course and get to be berserk. For me with my long experience, on both sides of the fence, advertising has been marketing of a lifestyle. If at all, lying low for a because of a poor national economy, or because the brand is obsolete! Moreover, good advertising is not open to interpretation. It means the same thing to whoever reads it, anywhere in the world. If it is good it is good. If it works it works. If it is not noticed and accepted then all that behind it is academic, and may be just an attempt in public relations.