Though it has been suggested often, I have refrained from writing about a continuing malaise in the advertising industry, a fraternity I used to be a member of. That is because candor is often not appreciated, or deemed partisan. So I will stick with the facts.
It is easy to blame the government for the endemic levels of corruption in Indonesia. Eighty five percent of the people and the same percentage of the country's professional managers agree "corruption is one of the major problems affecting this country".
But how often do marketing and advertising professionals stop to wonder how thin the dividing line is between monetary and intellectual corruption?
Listening to local CEOs and regional heavyweights from both sides of the equation, it becomes obvious that a key facet of the old client-agency relationship has diminished over time.
If a global media agency thirsty for continuous growth is ready to work locally for barely 2 percent in commissions, can you really expect genuine investment in the brand's development? With the bar so low, how do local media agencies compete for a local marketer's business?
Cut-throat competition and the need to stay ahead can affect fundamental honesty. Here is a specific example from my everyday world, one that I am familiar with. Several agencies have proprietary tools, they are almost de rigueur "discriminators" now.
But if an agency runs a survey with 2,000 respondents in only the biggest cities once in a blue moon and claims to know "your consumers" better than anyone else, should it be congratulated or condemned for promoting fiction?
Especially if a continuous survey with 27,000 respondents covering Indonesia, urban and rural, is updated every 90 days? Such a comparison would be as ridiculous as a navy captain equating a patrol boat to an aircraft carrier, simply because both float.
Both have different capabilities, on different scales. One has width, depth and speed. The other isn't designed for all three needs.
In most product categories or service industries today, consumers outside the top 20 cities account for more than half of today's consumers and tomorrow's demand.
An occasional study conducted in the big cities can therefore only be offered as a proprietary tool that helps convert an agency's unique philosophy into concrete action. Overselling it will expose the agency to a veteran, if not to a novice.
By character, such a study is a snapshot in time with gaps sometimes as large as two years between one study and another. If plans are not evaluated periodically, if targets aren't measured, then accountability is a meaningless word.
To say habits don't change and that annual or biannual studies are good enough would be simply untrue. People don't switch religions, but shampoo?
Economic realities and new technologies like the cellular phone or the Internet all have dramatic and rapid impacts on consumer behavior.
Any caretaker of a brand who doesn't think it is important to know whether the competitor's customers are more "confident", doesn't really know what brand equity means. Add to these volatilities the impact of a new brand launch as witnessed by Lifebuoy's cannibalization of Sunsilk, or a major price cut affecting Simpati's changing fortunes.
Change happens, over months and quarters, not just years. Marketers incapable of recognizing different tools for what they are should seek more suitable professions.
Even if reading sales data or a consumer panel each month enables a marketer to sharply define the differences between one brand and another, an agency will have no option but to imitate that definition in broad demographic terms, using a completely different source of information.
Using media to reach that broad, out-of-focus target audience is like firing a shot-gun with fingers crossed. If marketer and agency used the same robust database, as indeed many are today, target definitions would become sharply focussed.
These could include smart definitions like "11 million grocery buyers who buy Rinso powder most often but do not buy Sunlight dishwashing liquid"; "Of people planning to buy a new motorcycle, the 4 million who reject Yamaha".
Buyers are vital targets in some cases, users in others. The media vehicles and promotional efforts that affect these uniquely defined groups can then be selected and measured on a quarterly basis.
It requires both client and agency to be accountable, each to pay their way for their respective essential knowledge. Anything for "free" should raise suspicion, because there are no free lunches in the real world.
It would be unfortunate for marketers to ignore the truth in fear of exposing ugly scars. To fuse data from different sources in the face of evidence for clinical errors would be equally as perverted.
Expatriates in particular would do well to remember they are here to help raise standards, not to exploit ignorance. If people betray their profession, what should their punishment be?
Though involved with the country's largest continuous syndicated survey, I would be the first to say that anything bigger and better deserves to be embraced.
Regardless of the producer, good robust research can be the catalyst for rewarding relationships: client and agency, marketer and consumer.The writer can be contacted at