Before Watergate, people believed in and had high regard for institutions. But the events surrounding Watergate let us down, and made us question everything, especially those of us in our formative years.


Fall/Winter 1999

Tom Denari '85
Executive Vice President, Young & Larimore Advertising

What 20th century event had the most significant impact on your profession or field of study?

When thinking about what has impacted marketing communications during the last 100 years, the easy answer would be the myriad of technological advancements creating an environment of constant change. During the past 100 years, marketing communications have come full circle, with technology creating a mass market with television, fracturing it with cable and satellites, and then splintering it with the internet. Because of the fragmentation, many companies are again yearning to find ways to reach a mass market.

But the most significant event affecting the content of marketing communications during the last 30 years occurred in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Before Watergate, people believed in and had high regard for institutions. Before Watergate, people even used to believe words like "quality," "value" and anything else a company said in their advertising. A catchy jingle or a cute character was enough to get people to feel good about a company's products.

But the events surrounding Watergate let us down and made us— especially those of us in our formative years— question everything. Watergate was the catalyst that changed how people viewed what companies were telling them.

The shattered idealism from Watergate has evolved to a cynicism that must be understood when trying to sell something to anyone. People do not want to be sold anything, especially through advertising. They are skeptical of anything an institution tells them. And, no one wants to admit they've been influenced by advertising, let alone buy something because of it.

But we know marketing communications works, because that same person will likely tell you they've bought something because it's a "brand name." Most companies want to be very direct about why people should buy from them. They think that if they aren't direct enough, people won't know that they should buy from them. But they need to remember how the events of Watergate changed how people feel about them and their advertising. People have conditioned themselves to deflect as many advertising messages as possible. This dynamic has created a challenge to reach people effectively, but an opportunity for those that understand why it's so difficult.

The most effective marketing communications charm people, treating them with a sense of respect and intelligence. Why? Because these messages allow people to put their guard down. For a few minutes, they don't feel like they are being sold. They will believe something more readily, and will have a stronger belief if they come upon a conclusion on their own. The "holy grail" for every product or service is finding a message that leads the audience to the intended conclusion on their own.

People in the field of marketing communications like to call that a "brand."


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