It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind)
The problem with integrated marketing communications is that it has a name. It’s no longer a concept or a way of thinking; it’s a term. IMC, for short; or 360, as in, “We should do IMC,” or, “We want a 360 plan.”
Once upon a time it was just something you did; now we have a term for what we used to do, and instead of practising it we lament that we are not, and have seminars about its whys and wherefores.
As a young Account Director I advised a client to use PR. When they said they didn’t have the budget, I suggested they cut a few spots off the TV schedule and use that money to pay a PR agency, which they did. It happened across the table: no presentation, no big deal. I did that because I thought it would help if the advertising were flanked by positive third-party communication. No one told me that was something called IMC.
When Philips launched epilators, we knew that no woman who wasn’t familiar with the product would buy one without trying it. But how could she try one in a shop? So the ads offered a free in-home demo. A demo cost three times as much as the product, but the customer invariably invited others over, so each domo reached several women and a nice girlie time was had by all, and demos seeded the product in a virgin market. Of course we also had in-shop product detailing and got the product featured in appropriate magazine columns. We did this because we thought our job was to get the product in the woman’s hand, not just to run ads. No one told us this was 360-degree communication.
Cadbury wanted to run a campaign targeted at farmers in Kerala, to get more of them to plant cocoa. We ran advertising telling farmers why growing cocoa was profitable: but how was the farmer to know how to tend cocoa? Cadbury gave away subsidised seedlings; their experts visited farmers to advise them; newspapers published a series of articles on cocoa cultivation; All India Radio ran episodes on cocoa on their farm radio programmes; a network of cocoa collection centres was set up, an address list widely distributed , direction signs put up to point the way;.... The entire programme was conceived, devised and driven by the agency. We did that because we empathised with the farmer: all the client had asked for was advertising.
To promote the use of oral rehydration salts (ORS) in the treatment of diarrhoea in babies, we had to not only tell young mothers it was the right thing to do, we had to persuade doctors to prescribe ORS, and chemists to suggest it when asked for advice. We had to reach not only registered medical practitioners but, very critically, thousands of those not formally qualified, who are consulted by many an Indian family.
Time was when we were in the business of inducing consumers to do something. Now we are in the business of making ads, or buying media, or putting out mailers, or wearing whichever hat life has placed on our heads. It is no one’s job but the marketer’s to focus on the end result. We know IMC – or 360, take your pick – is a good thing, so we talk about it and regret that we don't do what we know we should.
So what’s the problem with the term? It’s not the specific term; it’s the descent into jargon, which often gives the illusion of thinking. We used to think of the consumer. For Philips we asked how we could make it possible for her to try a product which is used in privacy; for Cadbury we asked how we could help the farmer get the necessary knowledge and guidance; and so on, and did what it took. Now we say we must do IMC, or 360, and ask what we should do in social media, and so on, so we can tick off each box.
The good news is that we in India aren’t the only ones: it’s the same globally. The bad news is that we in India aren’t the only ones: it’s the same globally. Just how mindlessly so came home to me when I saw a recent interview with Trevor Beattie on NDTV Profit.
Asked about integrated marketing communications, Beattie said it wasn’t about just ticking boxes. So far, so good. He said what mattered was the quality of each thing you did. Oh, so now we know. If you do everything well, that’s integrated marketing communications. But wait, there’s more to it. He said it’s the tone of voice that matters. And to illustrate he gave the example of his agency’s work for FCUK in which, he said, the TV commercial, the posters, the store displays, and whatever else had exactly the same tone of voice. So what we learn from him is that you must tick all the boxes with the same colour of ink.
It’s not that anything Beattie said was wrong; it’s that he misses the point. Typically, he’s thinking of what we do; he’s not thinking of what we want the consumer to do, what comes in the way of their doing it, and what we need to do about that.
Trouble is, it’s not about the elephant. We are the mahout, and it’s about where we want the elephant to go. We think of the tools, and try to use as many of them as we can; we need to think instead about what we want to build, and use the tools needed to build it.
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long.
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong.