The TV networks have been responsible for slowly strangling the goose that lays the golden egg in terms of diminishing consumer audiences and skipped commercials ("The vanishing mass market," Special Report, July 12). If you are of a certain age, you can recall when commercials on network TV were limited to nine minutes per hour and when networks and stations avoided placing competing products during the same commercial break. Now commercial time on the networks, including promos and supers, is almost double that, and the product has been cheapened by reduced news coverage and reality shows. To rise above the clutter, many advertisers have resorted to noise instead of product "news."
The networks bemoan such things as the use of TiVos -- yet they raise prices as the market for their product (network advertising) diminishes. Instead, they should try a new approach, such as limiting commercial breaks or restructuring programs so that commercials appear only at the end of the programs. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to increase the quality of the programs themselves, thereby providing an environment in which advertisers' products can be showcased.
Highland Park, Ill.
Editor's note: The writer is professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Personally sickened by the glut of advertising slogans and icons which have infested every walk of life, it sent a chill down my spine to read of the complex strategies being devised to target consumers, particularly those of the teen and young adult demographic. TiVo did not blossom simply because of people's need to record programming when not at home. VCRs have effectively done that job. The enticement was to skip commercials. When McDonald's (MCD) Corp. or Coca-Cola (KO) Co. resorts to product placement, it's not because the masses are too busy to pay attention to conventional TV spots. It's because the masses intentionally wish to avoid it.
As companies continue intruding into consumer "safe zones" reasonably expected to be free of corporate marketing, more people will not only turn off to those companies specifically but also avoid the outlets to which the ads have attached their barnacles, i.e. network TV, sporting events, etc.
Boca Raton, Fla.
With more media options than ever, which should have improved segmentation, advertisers now find formulaic media. Clear Channel Communications Inc. radio stations sound the same in Portland, Ore., as they do in Portland, Me. The same is true for network and local news, magazines, and newspapers.
The great copywriter Howard Luck Gossage predicted that when the revenue from advertising exceeded the revenue from subscribers for print publications, the content wouldn't be worth paying for. Forty years later, we're paying the price, with media outlets fearing to offend the advertisers, or, worse yet, their corporate master's stock price by doing anything that different from the next guy.
When your product becomes homogenized, it loses value to the advertiser faster than it does to the consumer. Now advertisers are forced to think smarter about how to connect. In this new world, formulaic media aren't going to cut it.
Kofi Annan's plan on corporate social responsibility ignores the lessons of the successful Sullivan Principles that rallied corporate opposition to apartheid in the 1980s ("Global Compact, little impact," Social Issues, July 12). The Reverend Leon Sullivan focused on what the signatories were doing, not how many of them there were. His code was in sync with the logic of the private sector: Companies were rated against each other on a curve, the same way they were judged in the marketplace. They received an A, C, or a flunk. Performance, not plans and promises, was measured. Grades were public, and activists used them to pressure the laggards. The standards for acceptable social responsibility were ratcheted up each year, too.
The 10 principles enumerated in the Global Compact document are themselves ambiguous and arbitrary. While well-intentioned in its proclamation against human-rights abuses, the use of generalized standards requires all member to decide for themselves their own global moral compass and universal ethical application system.
In the end, it will be the worldwide consumer that acts as judge and jury of commercial compliance to human-rights violations -- as the venerable U.N. is always loath to take any action by itself.
Lawrence A. Beer
Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Millions of teachers are working hard -- and honestly -- to improve education under No Child Left Behind ("A spate of cheating -- by teachers," Social Issues, July 5). Here's the real story about cheating: Since 1965, the federal government has spent $321 billion on education, with virtually no improvement in academic performance, thus cheating the taxpayers. And the American Diploma Project has reported that for too many students, the high school diploma "serves as little more than a certificate of attendance." So millions of our children have been cheated out of their education.
Business Roundtable believes that No Child Left Behind will help to turn this around by raising standards, insisting on proficiency in reading and math, closing the achievement gaps that have held back the poor and minorities, and holding schools accountable for results.
John J. Castellani, President
"Stealing a march on the EPA" (Editorials, July 12) falsely asserts that climate change is not a high priority for the Bush Administration. In fact, the U.S. currently spends more money ($2 billion annually) on studying the causes and effects of climate change than Japan and the European Union combined. The Bush Administration was the first to deliver a strategic plan as part of its Climate Change Science Program -- which brought together 13 federal agencies, more than 1,200 scientists and stakeholders, and 35 countries around the world -- even though Congress required such a plan in 1990.
Implementing policies designed to curb "global warming" has dramatic consequences for businesses large and small and on the economy in general, but to what effect? Quite simply, we don't know enough about climate change to understand what effect policies would have on the global environment. That is why President Bush's comprehensive plan to first fill in the gaps in climate-change knowledge, along with accelerating federal investments in advanced energy technologies such as the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, is the most prudent course to take.
Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr.
Vice-Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Under Secretary of Commerce
for Oceans & Atmosphere