Sunday 21 April 2019

John McGee: Brexit monster under the bed frightens marketers

'it's becoming increasingly likely that the Brexit aftershock that will be felt post-2019 will be around for a long time' Stock photo: PA
'it's becoming increasingly likely that the Brexit aftershock that will be felt post-2019 will be around for a long time' Stock photo: PA

John McGee

It would appear that Ebenezer Scrooge was allowed run amok through the procurement and marketing departments of Irish brands earlier on in the year. As the Ghost of Brexit Yet to Come hovered menacingly over him, it seems that Scrooge took an axe to any budgets or plans for big budget Christmas advertising campaigns in 2017 - and quite possibly beyond.

Although it's hard to escape Christmas advertising at this time of year, it's not hard to notice the absence of any new big brand campaigns from Irish companies that tug on our Yuletide emotions.

That is not to say Irish brands have given up on Christmas this year because they haven't. But many leading brands have chosen to re-use and re-edit campaigns from previous years. And the big brands that have rolled out Christmas 2017 campaigns are more tactical in nature, preferring to plug specific products and promotions rather than tell a big brand story that tugs at our festive heart-strings.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with repeats or edited versions of previous year's campaigns. If they can still invoke that all-important nostalgia and trigger the warm and fuzzy feelings that people like around this time of the year, then it's still a result.

But every advertising agency loves getting a brief for a Christmas campaign. Not only is it an opportunity for the creative departments in many agencies to light up like, well, a Christmas tree but it also gives their clients the opportunity to win Christmas. This year, however, the only briefs many creatives will be receiving will, more than likely, have been purchased by their siblings in Dunnes Stores or Marks & Spencer.

Christmas campaigns are also the most-talked about and anticipated during the year. From early November, social media channels light up with the usual chatter about whether or not the imminent gold-standard John Lewis Christmas campaign will feature a reindeer, a dog or - as was the case this year - a monster hiding under a child's bed.

And this year was no exception. While the 2017 John Lewis ad might have been overshadowed and out-gunned by clever and engaging ads that tell a story from the likes of Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Vodafone and Aldi, they were all made by UK advertising agencies.

So, who let Ebenezer Scrooge have his 'bah humbug' way in the Irish advertising industry this year?

The grim reality is that caution and uncertainty were the two main prevailing sentiments within the marketing and advertising community this year. In turn, this has led to a large degree of short-termism taking root within the market which has led to the roll out of more tactical campaigns. For many brands, the big budget Christmas campaigns of previous years were simply not an option in these uncertain times.

Unlike the John Lewis ad, the monster under the bed for the Irish advertising industry is Brexit. And, by all accounts, he is scaring the bejaysus out of the entire industry.

"Overall, it's been a slightly negative year for the Irish marketing and advertising industry," says Core Media CEO Alan Cox. "The big thing for the industry over the last 12 months has been Brexit and the impact that this has had on the market. As much as 25pc of media budgets spent in Ireland are allocated in the UK and with the fall in the value of sterling, this has had a significant impact on the market," he says.

Historically, the pace of growth in the advertising market has always tracked wider economic growth. When times are good and when consumer sentiment is buoyant, brands generally step up their advertising investment. Similarly, when the economy goes into reverse, so too do advertising budgets.

But this time around, we may well be breaking with these rule-of-thumb traditions and, according to Cox's colleague, Eddie O'Mahony, who heads up the group's trading division, the overall market may be down by between 1-2pc for the full year.

Anyone working in traditional media should look away now. According to O'Mahony, the decline in advertising investment in traditional media, including print, TV and radio might be as high as 8pc this year with digital advertising the only growth area, albeit at a much slower pace due to recent controversies over online brand safety and a reappraisal of digital budgets by some big FMCG companies like P&G.

As the Brexit talks continue to unleash even more uncertainty on the market and sterling continues to fluctuate, we really shouldn't be thinking that 2017 was a minor blip. In fact, it's becoming increasingly likely that the Brexit aftershock that will be felt post-2019 will be around for a long time. Next year, for example, O'Mahony reckons that the Brexit effect could lead to the traditional market in 2017 being down by as much as 4pc or up by 2pc when digital is included.

In the meantime, and in keeping in the spirit of Christmas, let us enjoy the new Christmas ads that are out there because we may be watching them again next year.

Sunday Indo Business

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