MARKETING HISTORY : The Way We Were – Our Marketing press history

It’s almost exactly 30 years to the month that the last issue of the country’s first marketing magazine was published. NBR Marketplace, named best business magazine in the early 1970s and still remembered affectionately by grizzled marketing and advertising veterans, was also the first to give regular, detailed attention to the parallel worlds of advertising and the media.
NBR Marketplace was quarterly magazine, usually 40 pages, read by National Business Review readers and growing number of others who subscribed to it directly. It ran for 15 quarterly issues from 1972-77, but was little before its time in terms of sustained advertising support. This was to prove more certain when John Minty launched NZ Marketing Magazine in 1981 and AdMedia in 1985.
Forty years ago computers sat in large air-conditioned rooms; business buzz­words were ‘production’, ‘supply’ and ‘cost-plus’; locally owned newspapers still ruled the advertising roost; and media buying and market research were core activities in the handful of dominant advertising agencies.
In the early 1970s in New Zealand, ‘marketing’ was something you were more likely to read about in American magazines than observe in action locally. Genuine marketing managers – appointed for the right reasons and actually able to define their role – were hard to find. Most often the ‘marketing manager’ was reward given to an ambitious, bushy-tailed sales or advertising manager. Their struggle to write marketing brief persuaded many advertising agencies, in the full glory of one of that industry’s ‘full service’ periods, to appoint their own marketing managers to add another arrow to the bulging quiver of services they offered clients.
At the time, Geoff Collier, one of the small band of international marketers who had emigrated to New Zealand, wrote: “I know very few marketers … who can, unprompted, list most of the profitable consumer-satisfying activities available to them. It is certain that only minority regularly carry out more than the bare-bone essentials of such list.”
When Reg Birchfield and I took over the new-born National Business Review, about to succumb from cot death in late 1970, our knowledge of the business world was sketchy. While Reg manfully struggled with stock markets and company structures, I fell back on what I did know – the advertising industry and embryonic marketing field.
A panel of leading industry figures debating advertising trends in the 1970s, at special function shortly after we took over National Business Review, led to 20-page special feature which helpfully supplemented our very empty coffers and showed there was an enthusiasm and hunger for more discussion and analysis of marketing, advertising and the media. It was also noticeable that, in secretive industry and before the era of mixing at splashy awards functions, senior prac­titioners welcomed the opportunity to air their views and experiences on neutral ground. It was sufficient encouragement to launch NBR Marketplace.
Subjects that initially preoccupied the magazine and the people we interviewed included the increasing dominance of TV, the rise and rise of ‘hot shop’ agencies like MacHarmans, Campaign and Colenso, sprouting of Auckland agencies, and debate about whether fully fledged international agencies would notice us out there on the outer periphery of their global vision. (Nine internationals setting up shop in various ways by the mid-1970s proved conclusively that they had.)
In the early 1970s the ‘big five’ advertising agencies, with ‘full service’ their proudly proclaimed motto, still dominated. Ilotts, Charles Haines, J Inglis Wright, Dormer Beck and Dobbs-Wiggins-McCann-Erickson were well ahead of the field, but the actual pecking order was closely guarded secret. It was bare-faced bluff when I wrote in the first issue of NBR Marketplace: “In preparing this first issue … we deliberately set out to discover the information that surprisingly secretive advertising industry plays very close to its collective chest. We now have on our files detailed information about agency billings, industry profitability, and media spending patterns. We could have printed this information, but we have not.”
Agency billings, company marketing budgets and media revenue, data that today is routinely and regularly there for the asking, was guarded with such zeal that national security might have been at risk. While we did cobble together, from hints and scraps of information, an idea of the agencies’ ranking list, boycott threat from the heads of some of the largest firms cooled our investigative zeal – in that area at least.
Major NBR Marketplace stories covered the car, cigarette, banking, wine, hosiery, oil, fast foods, record, rental car, credit card, cosmetics, and beer markets. There were also articles on corporate identity, sponsorship, direct selling, incentive marketing, franchising, public relations, the retail revolution, and research companies’ increasingly sophisticated responses to marketing’s challenges. The magazine also ran less than enthusiastic eye over the packaging of politicians and advertising to children.
It made the role of observer all the more fascinating that some long-lasting hegemonies were under threat. Colenso’s bright sparks morphed out of the conser­vative confines of Charles Haines; Ogilvy & Mather showed that decades of solid, sometimes stolid, performance was not prerequisite to success; ‘creativity’ was an exciting alternative to ‘full service’; TV producers, designers, typographers, and photographers were opting for more risky and much more stimulating indepen­dence; the ‘marketing mix’ was beginning to be more than theory; there were signs that media buying would not much longer be an agency preserve.
It can also be claimed, without too much embarrassment, that in-depth journalism was given hefty shove in the right direction on the pages of NBR Marketplace. I remember interviewing Ian Cross, not long before he left polishing Felt & Textiles’ image for the Listener editorship. He waved copy of NBR Marketplace and said something like: “This is some of the most detailed research and reportage I’ve read in this country, but why, oh why, is it about the cigarette industry?” To this day, I’m not sure. I think it was fascination with the fact that some of the country’s cleverest and most sophisticated marketing was being lavished on such an undeserving product. Despite the pro­bing article, cigarette advertising, often in colour, remained staple in the magazine, and very welcome from struggling publisher’s perspective!
To Karl du Fresne, who later wrote Listener features and edited The Dominion, and many of his journalist contemporaries, anything over 500 words was like climbing Mt Everest without oxygen. Yet, after some cajoling, his ‘Beer: an industry in ferment’ ran to more than 13,000 words, the magazine’s longest-ever article. Other regular contributors were Steve Bridges, NZ Marketing Magazine Marketing Hall of Fame inductee; Reg Birchfield, now director of 3media Group; Gordon (The Passionless People) McLauchlan; Hugh Rennie, media enthusiast and later BCNZ chairman and high-profile QC; Chris Butler, subsequently our ambassador in several capitals and executive director of the Asia NZ Foundation; and the late Ian Brown, leading market researcher and NZ Marketing Magazine Marketing Hall of Fame inductee.
In the early 1970s, marketing quickly graduated from fad to fact for several reasons, including the rude shock of Britain’s determination to join the EEC – turning cosy export arrangements on their head, and prompting an urgent need to find new markets and diversify narrow primary products base. Domestically, long-time sellers’ market was weakening: factory production had doubled in decade, there were more companies linked to marketing-orientated overseas firms, indications that draconian import licensing could not be maintained, and the strong whiff of consumerism in th

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