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Advertising you don't see until it's too late

January 13 2003

Marketing is the new message in a business world that sees ads as the kiss of death, writes Peter Gotting.

Get set for the next big thing: invisible advertising.

And unless you have no mobile phone, television, internet access, credit card or youngsters pestering for products, you will get the message, like it or not.

The advertising industry is warming to the challenge of selling products to a new generation of savvy consumers who are less drawn to conventional advertising.

The more invisible the strategy, the better. The idea is to trick consumers into believing they are discovering a promotion, rather than responding to an ad.

Advertising and marketing agencies are producing TV shows, making films, publishing books, writing pop songs and organising events. Mitsubishi, Sanity Music, Lion Nathan and Unilever are part of the push into TV production.

To see how far "below the line" marketers will go, take TV's The Gilmore Girls - or don't, if you want to avoid a barrage of ads tailored to the series.

The United States show about a young single mother and her teenage daughter was devised by a coalition of multinationals that believed there was nothing on air that provided the perfect platform for their ads.

It is a trend that is seeing advertising masquerade as culture. It also has consumer groups on the defensive and media organisations worried about their income.

The problem with conventional advertising is that it is "very in your face", says Greg Daniel, whose company, Issues & Images, specialises in the alternative forms of marketing. "More subtle forms of communication are being used."

Advertisers are "always looking at the ways of getting under the radar of consumers", says Mark Collis, former creative director at the ad agency D'Arcy Worldwide, which last year had a CD singles hit for a kind of confectionery.

In September D'Arcy created a pop group named for the Mars product Starburst, and their one and only release went to number 28 on the charts before it was found out.

"Consumers don't want to be sold something," says Mr Collis, now creative director at one of Australia's largest advertising agencies, George Patterson Bates.

"They want to discover something. They don't want to be associated with advertised products ... we are trying to find ways of communicating to people without it being so in your face."

If they're not making their own television or radio programs, advertisers are increasingly dictating the content of those already on air.

They are consulted as the networks develop programs such as Big Brother, The National IQ Test and Temptation Island, offering new ways to promote products.

As digital technology improves, advertisers are worried consumers will simply delete ads, so advertising is embedded inside the programs. And if this method misses the consumer, the marketers are able to target individuals directly as they gather information on them.

The direct marketing industry is now twice the size of advertising. Methods such as mail-outs, phone calls and emails grew by 2 per cent in 2001, with $16.2 billion spent on the industry.

At the same time the advertising sector shrank 6 per cent, to $8.4 billion. In the first six months of last year spending was down 5.2 per cent on 2001, at $3.5 billion.

Robert Morgan, chairman of one of Australia's largest advertising groups, Clemenger Communications, estimates that advertising now makes up about 15 per cent of the marketing industry. Ten years ago it would have been 40 per cent.

Advertisers such as Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas have increasingly focused on direct marketing, building up databases on consumers.

Five years ago the Commonwealth spent about 80 per cent of its marketing budget on advertising. Now it spends less than 40 per cent, says the marketing and information services manager, James Sheffield, with an increased proportion on mail-outs, telemarketing and email.

"It's also about not wasting your dollars," he says.

"It's about targeting."

But it is not the end of advertising as we have known it.

"Mass media advertising is not going away," Greg Daniel, of Issues & Images, says. "It's still a very effective method of communicating with certain markets. [But] there are many other ways to communicate with consumers apart from advertising."


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SELL OUT: A Herald Series
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