PR Makes A Better Brand Instigator
by Alf Nucifora
The dynamic marketing duo and prolific writing team of Al & Laura Ries have done it again in their soon to be published "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR." This new book from the Ries team together, with its inflammatory premise, is sure to stir up the marketing communication masses. Says Al Ries, "It represents the culmination of two to three decades of controversy between me and the ad folks."
The book's basic contention is that the roles of advertising and public relations have become twisted and misaligned. As it states without equivocation, "PR creates the brand. Advertising defends the brand." Says Ries in a recent interview, "The real purpose of advertising is no longer to build a brand, but to defend a brand once it has been built by other means, primarily public relations or third-party endorsements." The Rieses also believe that most companies overspend in advertising when introducing or establishing a brand and, ironically, underspend on advertising in defending the brand once it is up and running.
How Has Advertising Changed?
Ries believes that advertising can no longer be objectively measured because it has become an art form and, as such, has lost its original communication function and power. That's not to say that advertising, per se, is dead. In fact, from Ries' point of view, advertising has real value when it serves a proper functional purpose. But, as stated earlier, that purpose is brand support and brand maintenance rather than brand formation, an opposing viewpoint to currently accepted marketing communications practice.
Why is advertising no longer valid as a brand instigator? "Too many ads and too much clutter to begin with" notes Ries. As a result, it's effectiveness and efficiency as a tool of persuasion, awareness creation and opinion formation is diminishing. It had credibility, but it's losing it rapidly. Does anyone really believe the recent Ford boasting about its much-maligned Explorer, or what Firestone has to say about its exploding tires? Says Ries, "Advertising has no credibility with consumers, who are increasingly skeptical of its claims and, whenever possible, are inclined to reject its messages." More to the point, the average person has now become highly skeptical of sales messages in general and advertising sales messages in particular.
Is PR Any Better?
We already have proof that PR can seat new ideas with great success. Starbuck's, Viagra, Amazon.com, Harry Potter, Beanie Babies, Oracle, Cisco, Sam's Club, even Segway (formally Ginger) are all classic examples of brands that grew rapidly to category dominance with little or no advertising support. PR carried the day in each case.
PR is a wolf in sheep's clothing. While it's hidden or implied role is that of creating opinion and perception, its methodology and delivery is very non-sell by nature. It, therefore, carries a more respectable tone of credibility and non-hype than its more obvious counterpart, advertising.
Ries maintains that clients agree with him in terms of a new found respect for PR's capabilities. Additional proof lies in the negative response that one hears from traditional ad agencies when he posits his viewpoint. But, PR practitioners are not up to the task. "They must accept responsibility for brand strategy and quit being submissive," says Ries. He firmly believes that the PR function has to become aggressive and assertive about the authorship and ownership of brand credential development and strategy.
advertising does a better job keeping existing ideas alive and is better served in occupying a maintenance role for the brand. "There is a credibility in supporting an existing credible idea," notes Ries. That's why Goodyear's advertising is effective. It supports the already established notion that the Goodyear brand is "#1 In Tires." Or, that BMW is still "The Ultimate Driving Machine." And, look what happens when advertising fails to support the credentials of the brand. We get mixed advertising messages from Volvo that shout performance when we know the brand best for its safety. Ditto with Mercedes that now uses its advertising to push a lower end product that assumes less brand cache and quality
the very elements that have defined the brand for decades.
The Rieses are specific in establishing the ground rules. "Never run advertising until the major publicity possibilities have been exploited," they demand. "Until a new brand has some credentials in your mind, you're going to ignore its advertising." They summarize their belief as follows, "Advertising cannot start a fire. It can only fan a fire after it has been started. To get something going from nothing you need the validity that only third-party endorsements can bring. Therefore, the first stage of any new campaign ought to be public relations."