Digital age dissolves limitations in advertising/marketing industry

According to Advertising Age Online, the very first advertisement in the soon-to-be United States was printed in the Boston News-Letter in 1704 seeking a buyer for an Oyster Bay, Long Island Estate. Since then, "We've come a long way, baby."

The marketplace has become increasingly more competitive and advertisers and marketers have become savvier and more technologically advanced.

The enormous changes that have come with the dawn of the computer age have enhanced all facets of the advertising and marketing process, especially market research, which has traditionally been conducted by phone surveys, mail surveys and those ubiquitous mall surveys.

According to Luke Haase, principal at the Intelligence Agency in Traverse City, technology has had a major impact on market research.

"Web-based surveys are now the norm in conducting research. It's easy for respondents to take the survey; it prevents common surveying errors; and the information can be transferred directly into a data file without the possibility of key stroke errors."

Other information can be gathered on the Internet as well. Access to websites, such as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, provide invaluable data that can help marketers more successfully strategize.

"Today the arsenal of tools in our profession is mind boggling," says Gregg Smith, principal at the Lawton Gallagher Group in Traverse City. "Market research is a key stoke away, and demographic, socio-economic break downs by virtually any metric are within easy reach."

The advent of Internet research has had a distinctly positive effect on agencies in locations like Traverse City. The easy access to information allows them to compete on the same footing with big city agencies, says Monica Perkins, marketing manager at Idea Stream in Traverse City.

"Using online and computer-based resources to find demographic and psychographic statistics as well as utilize industry web sites for other firms, publications, and organizations for research tactics and data, have opened up the lines of communication and allowed firms in smaller areas to communicate with larger market firms, and keep up on trends on all levels, local, regional, national and even international."

Even some of the tried and true marketing/advertising tools have received a technological face lift. For 83 years, the SRDS, Standard Rate and Data Service, has provided media rates and information to 95 percent of U.S. advertising agencies. Twenty years ago, the SRDS produced enormous bound volumes of data that had to be updated constantly and were often obsolete by the time they were published. Now, the SRDS can be accessed from the Internet, so information is always current.

Media planning has also benefited tremendously from technology. Before, complicated mathematical equations on hypothetical situations were used to determine statistics like gross rating points, cost per rating point, milline rates and audience turnover. While often difficult to precisely determine, these statistics are vital to effective media plans and media buys.

Marsha Stratton, media buyer at Idea Stream, finds that utilizing sophisticated measuring tools, including Arbitron, Media Professional and AC Nielson rating systems, means that today's media plans can be constructed on empirical data, not guesswork.

"After all, the finest creative content is wasted if your correct demographic never hears it," she said.

Of course, marketing and advertising is not all data and statistics; it takes creative talent to produce a message that will capture audience attention.

Jim McIntyre, executive vice president at Knorr Marketing in Traverse City, feels technology has been a help and a hindrance to the creative process. Technology has fostered creativity by providing tools and techniques that are simple to use; however, he feels these tools can replace creative thinking and problem solving and can be used as a crutch for a great creative concept.

Haase believes technology has enhanced the production of the creative product, but adds that the agency's responsibility to combine words and images to sell the client's product or service has not changed.

"We view our role very simply: to cause results in a client's business. That would be our role if we went back to stone tablets, so the advent of the Internet has not changed that fundamental truism," Haase said.

The Internet has certainly opened up the creative talent pool; writers and designers can work for just about anyone regardless of geographic location.

Haase says, "This is one area where technology has blown our industry open. I can now hire an especially talented designer in Boulder, Colo. and virtually not have that working relationship be any different than if the designer was next door. Alliances now know no borders."

Some of the "nuts and bolts" in the production process that have seen change are typesetting, print and broadcast production and graphic design, to name a few.

Smith got his start in his parents' newspaper/print shop in Boyne City and has witnessed enormous change. He recalls that the chief copy/typesetter or linotypist could be identified by the burn marks on his left leg as a result of wayward spurts of molten lead. He remembers when the change was made from hot type to cold type. Then in the early 1980s, PCs were introduced.

"I still remember attending an Apple/Aldus Pagemaker desk top publishing seminar in Traverse City during that period, and getting goose bumps at the thought of what this technology portended for the publishing business," Smith commented.

McIntyre has also seen changes in the creative process. Story boards for client presentation are largely done on the computer, and are presented in formats other than the old hand-illustrated presentation boards with flaps. Digital files are incorporated into Powerpoint, video or other animated programs.

No matter how technologically sophisticated the tools become, however, effective marketing cannot take place unless there is someone to listen to the client's wishes and concerns. As Haase puts it, "The business is still about people and personality and preference." BN