When times are tough the natural inclination is to cut down on marketing and particularly advertising expenditure. Which is fine - but on condition that one has a long hard look at how efficient your marketing and advertising is.
About R50 billion is wasted every year on misguided and ill-considered marketing in South Africa. So, there is a lot of fat that can be cut off a lot of marketing budgets.
But, before cutting budgets it's essential to look at overall efficiency of advertising and marketing. Reduced marketing investment has to work harder to ensure good returns and the maintenance of top quality service.
One has to be careful in selecting advertising agencies, PR companies and research organisations, not that there are a lot of charlatans in these industries but rather it is a question of finding someone who understands your business and your goals.
A lot of money is being wasted on advertising in South Africa these days as a result of some advertising agencies being given too much leeway to experiment or clients not briefing them in sufficient detail.
With the average consumer being exposed to something like 10 000 marketing messages a day the whole issue of getting the attention of readers, listeners and viewers is becoming a source of increasing deliberation.
Just taking South Africa as an example, over the past decade the average citizen has been inundated with added time consuming distractions. Dozens of new magazines, far more TV channels, more radio, more magazines, more newspapers and most of all more business and leisure time technology. Emails, internet browsing and cell phones chew up hours of the modern consumers' time and it is this time that used to be spent not only devouring conventional media but the advertising that came with it.
There was a time when the people who produced mass media newspaper ads and TV commercials, for example, were told that they had two seconds to get the attention of the reader or viewer after which they had simply lost the opportunity.
These days that time has reduced to less than a second.
Harvard University insists that the information economy as we know it has become redundant due to the information highway becoming so clogged nobody bothers to use it any more. Now what we have, they say, is the attention economy. And in advertising terms this means not only applying a lot of thought and creativity to ensuring that consumers actually see an ad but that the ad manages their attention until the message had got across.
Quite simply, to be effective and efficient in the future, advertisements, be they on radio, TV or in print, will have to grab attention and then not waste any time in getting to the point.
So many TV commercials and full page ads are completely wasted today because they are simply too complicated, too subtle or just plain too long.
It is going to be a massive challenge for the advertising industry to persuade its creatives to move away from shock tactic or Hollywood-type works of art into something a lot more efficient. Strangely enough, if any of them had to look back in history they would find that a huge number of really effective advertisements were extremely "creative" in the aesthetic sense of the word. And these were also very simple.
There is no question that the anti-establishment, arty, ponytail brigade who make up so much of the ad industry's creative departments, are going to have to start understanding the consumer a lot better. They are also going to have to become a lot more businesslike in their mind-set because advertising is becoming far too much of an expensive business to take chances on.
A classic example of this was the Budweiser "Wassup" campaign in the USA. Not only did this win awards all over the world but was acclaimed generally by the industry as a breakthrough in attention-getting, motivating, marketing communications.
But, in the period after this campaign ran, Budweiser sales dropped 8.3 per cent, market share went from 4 per cent to 2.5 per cent and the campaign was generally regarded by the Budweiser people as not only a complete flop but damaging to the brand.