Tony Surtees

A marketing meritocracy begins to emerge

Some months ago I wrote that "a recession unleashes pent up energy and creative, reorganising forces." Actually there is a chance - the first for many years, for a bit of a marketing meritocracy to emerge.

The downturn has been a trigger for media and marketing companies to make structural changes that were long overdue, according to the chairman of the Australian Association of National Advertisers. Speaking at an event organised by Ogilvy, Joe Talcott, who is also group marketing director for News Ltd, told the audience that the industry had been doing so well before that the imperative for change was not there. He told a story of a traveller in the US, who comes across a farmer, with a dog on the porch. The animal was quietly moaning to itself because it was lying on a nail. When the visitor asked the farmer why the dog didn't move, the farmer replied: I guess it just doesn' hurt enough. Talcott told the audience:  We are now seeing innovations and changes we should have made over the last 15 years. But it just didn't hurt enough. We were doing well and we didn't feel the need to change.

Meanwhile, Phil Ruthven, chairman of data firm Ibis World, told the audience: This is the most gentle recession in my entire life. Australia will come out of this at 100 miles per hour. In Australia, there's no such thing as a slow recession. However, Stephen Joske of the Economist Intelligence Unit was more pessimistic, warning that the damage to the global financial system would lead to a slowish recovery. Ogilvy & Mather managing partner Mike Daniels told the meeting that growth was still a while away. He said: "Flat is the new up." The panel also touched on the question of whether environmental sustainability was still important in a recession, and Daniels pointed to examples where brands which had been emphasising their green credentials were now talking up other aspects instead. He said: "From a consumer perspective, I'm not sure how motivating a brand's relationship with the environment is." He cited the example of Westpac's recent new advertising positioning. He said: "Westpac differentiated themselves that way for a while.

But now they have gone back to making a virtue of boringness and safety." Former Greenpeace CEO Ian Higgins, now senior adviser at OgilvyEarth, said that when consumers were choosing between brands, if all other aspects were equal, greenness is still a deciding factor. And the discussion also touched on the impact of social media. Talcott said: "The incredible change with is that as marketers we are always trying to connect with our customers. The customers are now also connecting with each other, and that's the game changer. "Today your customers are smart, cynical and connected and that changes everything.


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Tony Surtees iPRIME Tony Surtees
Company: iPRIME
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Tony Surtees is CEO of HYPERLOCALIZER.COM. Past Vice President & General Manager of Yahoo's e-commerce division in the US. Tony was founder and CEO of www.iPRIME.com.au Read Tony's full bio

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