10 events that shook marketing in 2003

The war on terrorism, ITV's merger and Jonny's last-second drop goal provided Britain's biggest news this year. But how did they affect marketers? James Curtis reports.

In a year in which war and global terrorism have dominated the headlines, there has been little to cheer about in 2003 - although England winning the Rugby World Cup and the hottest summer in living memory at least made it more palatable for anyone in the beer or ice cream business.

It was also a banner year for regulators. The Communications Bill finally made it through Parliament, relaxing rules on media ownership and setting the wheels of super-regulator Ofcom in motion. This change in climate in the media world was confirmed when the Carlton and Granada merger was given the green light, practically unhindered.

The regulatory theme continued as the tobacco giants' battle to continue advertising was finally dealt a fatal blow by a ban which came into force in February. And now that tobacco is defeated, it looks as though food and alcohol advertising are the next targets. Advertising to children and its role in fuelling a so-called 'obesity time bomb' was a hot topic and will surely intensify in 2004.

This was a year when 'sexed up' became the term on everyone's lips, as the Hutton Inquiry dragged on over the summer. Thank goodness for the light relief provided by those 118 118 runners, the advertising success of the year. We also enjoyed the Beckham transfer spectacle, but the glittery vision of football offered by his Madrid move was soon sullied when a group of Premiership players was accused of gang rape in a London hotel room.

At the end of the year, with Concorde flying into the sunset, marketers can ponder a busy and colourful 2004. The Euro 2004 football championships in Portugal, the Olympic Games in Athens, a steadily recovering advertising economy and the likelihood of a rash of mergers and acquisitions in the deregulated media world should make for an eventful year.


Jaws dropped when the Competition Commission waved through the £4.6bn merger of Carlton and Granada with few strings attached. Advertisers were furious, especially as the ITV companies were not forced to sell off their sales houses. Fearing further sales consolidation, advertisers protested that their interests were not protected. Although the government has devised a remedy that supposedly protects them from sudden price hikes, advertisers are still twitchy. ITV argues that the cost savings of the merger will allow it to invest in programming that will benefit advertisers.


The Carlton-Granada merger ushered in a new strategic landscape for TV companies, media owners and advertisers. For marketers, who by the nature of their roles should be the natural catalysts of change, it is bizarre to see the strength of reaction it created. More mergers are predicted and we must assume that the Competition Commission is cognisant of this. The time has come to embrace the opportunities created for transparency and international growth.


While the backlash against US brands failed to materialise, the war in Iraq had a deep impact. The long build-up to the conflict, and then the war itself, created an air of economic uncertainty and widespread budget cuts, with travel advertising hit hardest. Although the war seems to have made the world less safe, marketers are regaining confidence and spend is now recovering.


The war exposed deep levels of distrust in our society. In a consumer society, certain brands may become the last bastions of trust. It's a precious attribute. As brand guardians, we must recognise the value of trust and hold on to it.


You still can't call it a beautiful game, but rugby is suddenly sexy. English World Cup glory will surely bring marketing riches. Experts predict that Jonny Wilkinson, who already has deals with Adidas, Hackett and Lucozade, could soon be earning £5m a year. England kit sponsors O2 and ITV are also celebrating, the latter having paid £40m for the rights to this and the 2007 event.


This victory will be a great kick-start for sponsorship money and hopefully bring more youngsters into the game. It could well affect how rugby is viewed commercially compared with football.


Food became the new tobacco in 2003. The Food Standards Agency is warning of an obesity epidemic, claiming that one in ten six-year-olds is obese. In September, it released a report pointing the finger at the ad industry. As a result, food industry chiefs and ad agencies were hauled before an inquiry. Momentum behind a ban on kids' food ads and use of celebrities is growing. Kraft Foods pledges to change portion sizes and the way it markets to children. Expect pressure for an ad ban to intensify next year.


Parents and children have always argued about what ought to be in the school lunchbox. With the growth of childhood obesity, the debate about what to feed our kids is becoming increasingly important for everyone - from parents to the government. Healthier products, as well as a more responsible approach to marketing to children, will play a bigger part and brand trust and integrity will become more important than ever.


September 11's terrorist attacks and the Paris air crash in July 2000 finally did for Concorde after 27 years. The loss will not only be felt by the likes of wealthy celebrities such as Joan Collins and Mick Jagger, but also by BA's marketing team. Concorde imbued the BA brand with a touch of class, even if few could afford to fly on it. It was also intrinsic to any sense of 'brand Britain', although it is perhaps sad that a 30-year-old plane remains the most striking symbol of our technological and design prowess.


I was fortunate enough to see the three Concordes fly over London on that last day and it was an amazing sight. The old lady still had the pulling power to make everyone stop to watch her fly over. Concorde was a rarity, as it's not often that people stop and marvel at technology. It set a standard of excellence and reminds all of us in marketing that great design can be truly uplifting and inspiring.


A well-oiled campaigning machine is now rolling behind London's 2012 Olympic bid, headed by former Go chief executive Barbara Cassani, with David Magliano (also ex-Go) as marketing director. The team will know whether the bid is successful in 2005. For the marketing and creative industries, it would be a massive boost. The challenge for marketing is to help ensure the £2.4bn cost of staging the games doesn't throw London into a spiral of debt, as happened in Montreal in 1976 and Barcelona in 1992.


Bringing the Olympics to London would be good for the country, for London and for sport - not to mention the marketing opportunities it would create. There is a groundswell of support and enthusiasm for the London bid, especially from the marketing community, and this is very encouraging. I'm impressed by Barbara Cassani. She has wonderful enthusiasm, is a tremendous advocate and an adroit marketer.


It's the biggest thing to hit the national press since Eddie Shah launched the first colour newspaper, Today, in 1985. Hopefully, the launch of a compact Independent will be more enduring and, on current evidence, it looks as though it will. Not only is the tactic boosting sales by 50% in the areas it is available (it's now launching nationwide), it has prompted The Times to follow suit. The rest of the pack is bound to follow and some analysts predict broadsheets could soon be history.


This shows how we all have to constantly think of ways to adapt how we deliver our content to suit the behaviour and lifestyles of the modern consumer. Not so long ago it would have seemed strange that people could get their newspapers via the internet or phones. For newspapers to adapt from broadsheet to compact form, without sacrificing product quality, is a sensible step in the same process of evolution.


The mission of Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton and chief executive Adam Crozier to modernise the group hit a brick wall in November, when wildcat strikes brought the postal system to a standstill. The group, which has lost £1.8bn in the past two years, could ill-afford the resultant loss of business. Tesco.com, for one, switched to Parcelnet. The direct marketing industry was also hit hard, inevitably prompting some to consider alternative channels of communication.


The strike coincided with one of three big fundraising mailings we conduct each year to recruit donors. We lost about £50,000 of income and a base of committed givers, which will have an impact on our ability to fund overseas development work. We will still look at direct mail, but also at other means in case this happens again. We will talk to the Post Office and seek compensation.


Judging by the media frenzy, you might think that the England captain's £25m transfer to Real Madrid was the most important story of the year. From a marketing standpoint, it was a fascinating insight into how football has become a charade of image over substance, with Beckham's commercial value analysed more than his talent. Manchester United was not as worried about the loss of his trusty right boot as it was about Vodafone and Nike's sponsorship, worth £31m a year.


We're a corporate sponsor of Manchester United, and I'm also a big fan, so Beckham's departure affected me personally and professionally. I did re-evaluate our deal with the club, but I realised that the club is too big to feel any harm. The fans think the team is better off without him and, with stars such as Ronaldo, the team is now more exciting to watch. I admire Beckham as a player, but he's not a bigger brand than the club.


The switch-off of the 192 service in August spawned a £70m advertising battle between the new providers. In all, it's been a grim spectacle, with consumers wondering why they need so much choice and Ofcom reporting that 40% of callers are given wrong information. The one highlight has been WCRS's daft, but brilliant, campaign for The Number's 118 118. Surely one of the most memorable and effective campaigns of the year and a reminder that advertising can still deliver the goods.


The 118 118 campaign reminds me of ITV Digital's Monkey ads - quickly building awareness with an offbeat idea which captured the imagination of a wide cross-section of society. But what about the service? The more we hear about its unreliability, you get the impression that like ITV Digital, this is another case of great advertising, shame about the product.


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