Tag Archives: ad agency

Has the Age of the Amateur arrived?

Sound of MusicAs a young backpacker many years ago, I found myself at the Yoho Hostel in Salzburg, Austria. After perhaps enjoying one too many european beers, I woke the next morning to discover that I’d agreed to go on The Sound of Music tour with some other backpackers who I’d met.

Anyway, apart from visiting sites from the film, singing the odd Julie Andrews song and twirling across clover-covered meadows, we pulled into a beautiful village called St. Gilgen on the shores of the lake Wolfgangsee.

The guide explained that many carpenters lived in the village. As such, many of the homes featured amazing carvings and ornate woodwork. The craftsmanship was amazing but, sadly, it’s something that’s often missing from today’s world.

This lack of craftsmanship is pandemic across many industries. That’s because craft takes time, plus using a professional can be expensive – two things that many now view as being poisonous.
So we’re left with a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach. People have become immune to mediocrity. In rushing to ‘get stuff out’, we’ve lost sight of the fact that  it’s a waste of time if it’s actually the wrong stuff, or if the stuff is crap.

We simply don’t appreciate professional skill sets anymore. Ones that have been learned and honed with experience and time.
Watching a few episodes of MasterChef and knowing what a Croquembouche is, doesn’t make you a chef.
Being able to Google ‘How to fix a leaking tap’ doesn’t make me a plumber.

But perhaps the age of expertise is a thing of the past.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a former boss. He recalled when he was a Junior Art Director in London. Back then, once you chose a Director to work on your TV commercial, it was ‘hands off’. The Director would take complete control of the project.
He then said, “But these days, everyone’s a Director. Everyone carries a camera around in their pocket, so they think they can direct.”

So, as mentioned, we’ve devalued expertise because it takes time and it can be expensive. But perhaps even worse, is that many people can’t even identify quality anymore.
A house in St Gilgen may as well be a DIY project for anyone who can pick up a hammer. And the result just isn’t the same.

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Are ad agencies and creativity getting a divorce?

I look at the advertising industry these days and it often looks like the side of a spanner is being used as a hammer. Or to put it simply, it’s not the right tool for the job, but we’re trying to make it work.
But before we discuss that, it’s probably worth a quick look at how we got here (but if you want to skip the history lesson, just scroll down):

1841 – A chap named Volney B. Palmer sets up what is believed to be the first ad agency in Philadelphia. His clients create the ads and he places them in newspapers. (So these days, we’d probably refer to him as a Media Agency).
Ultimately, it was this media placing that gave birth to  a commission-based remuneration model for the advertising world.

Early 1900s – The Industrial Age arrives and with it comes mass-produced products. With mass production, manufacturers began to differentiate their products through branding and packaging.

1922 – Broadcast radio realises that it can fund its existence through advertising.

1929 – The Stock Market crash puts greater pressure on advertising to prove its effectiveness, so research becomes a player.

1938 – Radio ad revenue surpasses that of magazines.

1941 – The first TV commercial for Bulova Clocks airs. At this stage there are only 4,000 television sets, but by 1954 CBS becomes the largest advertising medium in the world.

1960 – The creative team of Copywriter and Art Director is born at DDB.

The 1980s – Personal computers make desktop publishing easier.

2000 – The Internet has 400 million users, making it the fastest growing medium ever.

So history shows that ad agencies were born to allow marketers to communicate with their customers. They did this through interrupting media that the customers were already reading/watching / listening to. To negate this ‘interruption’, creativity was engaged to make the message seem more informative or more emotive, or a point of difference.

However for many marketers, the relationship with creativity has always been an uneasy one. That’s because, understandably, marketers seek certainty. Creativity, by its very nature, isn’t certain. Creativity is unpredictable. At times, it can be erratic and wild.

And sometimes, creativity simply isn’t the answer.
Just recently I had lunch with a friend who left the agency world a few years ago to go client-side. He’s now National Head of Managing Something Or Other. He said that with a lot of the work they do, creativity just tends to get in the way.

This kind of thinking is happening in a lot of places.

It also reminded me of a recent article about former advertising creative, Yanni Pounartzis. In that article, Yanni suggests that creatives won’t exist in agencies in the near future.
I’ve seen this first hand. There are agencies out there that simply don’t have a creative department or ‘creatives’. In many ways, it does seem that ‘advertising’, as we know it, will simply become the management of data.

I do think creativity will live on. That’s what it does. It will find a new home.
But if you were unencumbered by history and were building a business today for the purpose of communicating with customers, I doubt that an ‘ad agency’ is what you would end up with.

Why do clients pick one ad agency over another?

A lot of marketing dollars from around the world ride on this question. Well, I reckon there are five basic reasons that influence a client’s decision. Each of them play a factor, but every client is different in the  level of importance they allocate to each.

1. Relationship

You see this time and time again, when a marketer moves companies and soon hires an agency they previously worked with. And that’s fair enough. If you have a good relationship with someone that’s tried and trusted then why not go with it?

Also falling into this category is the client that is just looking for a buddy – someone they can call anytime and have a chat with, or someone they can hit the golf fairway with, eat at fancy restaurants with, etc.

2. The Work

By ‘work’, I mean the ideas and the end product that appears on our TV screens, billboards, magazine pages, etc. The purists in agency-land would love to believe that if you get this right, it’s all that matters. And in an ideal world, that would be the truth. ‘Best work wins’, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

3. Cost

There’s always an agency willing to do it cheaper. And in recent times, this trend is pushing ad agencies into a position that simply isn’t sustainable. Plus, the work ultimately suffers because lower margins means you can’t afford to have the best people working for you (or giving the time required). There are no winners in a numbers game, only casualties.

4. Resource suitability

Some agencies are organised to fulfil specific needs. A client might want an agency with expertise or processes that suit a particular type of advertising (retail specialists, digital specialists, promotion specialists, fast turn-around stuff,etc).

5. Obedience

Marketers choose this type of agency because it makes them feel powerful, or they feel safe knowing they’ll get pretty much exactly what they ask for, when they ask for it. There is often no room for exploring new options, or unconventional approaches. In many ways, the agency’s role is reduced to that of a  studio. They cease to be partners in solving business and/or communication problems. Their role is simply one of servitude. In this position, creative people’s passion is often snuffed out.

So, if you’re a marketer, where do you place the weight of your criteria? Or if you’re an agency, which ones are your priority? It’s only when the agency and marketer are on the same page that a healthy marriage happens.

How do we get safer roads?

Recently, I saw an article posted on facebook. It was an open letter to drivers from a mother who, along with her family,  had suffered a great tragedy. It tells a very sad story of how her life was changed in an instant. It’s the type of story that stays with you for a while, and one that certainly encourages drivers to be more careful.

Now, over the years, there’s been some great ads asking people to drive more safely. Take this one for example:

Ads for safer driving have used shock, logic, ridicule and a range of other methods to try and achieve their objective. However, many lack the most important thing – timing. Ads are most effective at the point of decision, whether it’s standing in the supermarket aisle, or sitting behind the wheel of a car.

So, why haven’t we built this messaging in as a mandatory feature on vehicles that are registered for use on our roads? For example:

  • At the moment, some cars have little speed alerts that beep when you  exceed the speed limit. A ‘beep’ isn’t very emotional. What if we re-jigged this feature so a small transparent image of your loved ones projected onto the windscreen? That would add a reason why you shouldn’t be speeding rather than just telling you not to.
  • What if a car’s radio was fitted with a voice-recording that asked you to consider your family and the families of others? It could be triggered if you exceeded the speed limit.
  • What if mobile phones reminded you not to answer while you’re driving? Instead of ringing with your normal tone, the GPS sensor would detect that you were moving at a certain speed, so would simply announce that somebody is trying to call you, but it’s best not to answer it until you pull over.

Now, I know that the ultimate responsibility rests with the individual, but if we could provide a few more ways to help people drive safely (or barriers to stop them driving unsafely), it can only be a good thing.

Mark Fenske’s Nincompoop Forest

I recently came across a story that talked about Mark Fenske (at the time of writing, his site was offline) and his ‘Nincompoop Forest’.

Put simply, he talks about the importance of fighting for great ideas, and it goes like this:

For an idea to live, it must journey from the mind of its originator out into the ears of others, into the world.

To live, it must cross an area that is dangerous to the life of an idea… an area between the mind of an originator and the world where other people live who fight against ideas and try to kill them. This area, that challenges every ad idea the moment it is born, is called the Nincompoop Forest.

To find your way through the Nincompoop Forest, it takes heart, intelligence and determination.

There are many obstacles lying in wait. Some people fear big ideas, or are afraid to defend them, or don’t know how to explain or sell them.

Some people are afraid to buy big ideas because, by their nature, they have never been done before and can be scary. (It’s been said that if you’re not scared of an idea, it probably is not a big idea at all.)

You’ll have to save your idea from all the people who want to change the idea, “help” the idea, compromise the idea. They want to “make it better” or safer or less expensive or more comfortable.

All great ideas have to beware of the Nincompoop Forest.

Information, entertainment and a beer with Daz

Recently I caught up with an old mate, Daz, for a beer.

Daz has an interest in a small business called Bark Blowers. Put simply, this service allows customers to have sand, soil, blue metal, pebbles or mulch installed without having to unload/reload on site. Through a powerful pneumatic hose system, you quite literally spray the product wherever you want it.

Recently, they’d done a commercial through a regional TV station. The station produced the ad for very little cost but he was unhappy with it. He said it was wall-to-wall voiceover and seemed like it just yelled ‘heaps of shit’ at the viewer. Knowing I worked in advertising, he asked my opinion on whether ads should be packed full of information, or whether having a strong element of entertainment was more important.

I answered that it’s an age-old topic discussed between advertisers (who tend to support ‘information’) and their agencies (who tend to support ‘entertainment’). Having worked for a regional TV station in a previous life, I also told him that they produced his ad so cheaply because their motive was to give him something he could run on air (where they make their money in air time).

I suggested that these are some things he might like to consider:

  1. Nobody turns on their TV to be yelled at (or even sold to, for that matter).
  2. Information-rich may be received favourably by those viewers who, at the very time of the ad going to air, are in the market for the services of his product.
  3. On the other hand, taking the ‘entertainment’ route  will give your message a longer shelf life, provided it’s done well. This is because good ads get noticed by more people. So, besides getting noticed by those who are currently in the market, the entertainment factor also often appeals to those who are not in the market at that particular time. However, there’s a good chance they’ll recall it in the future if they need that service.
So, in this way, the ‘entertainment’ route gives you more bang for your buck, provided the entertainment part of your ad is relevant. 
However, this  chat with Daz over a beer also highlights another of the challenges facing Adland at the moment – namely, the longevity of an ad or campaign, and how to get the most value from it.
This topic is discussed here, where a few of the readers’ comments suggest the way marketers should rethink their communication strategies.
Similarly, Nick Law from R/GA talks about this subject in a video filmed in 2009.
It might seem that in a ‘throw away’ world, we’ve even made the advertising too disposable.

ADMA Forum 2011

I was asked to give a talk at the ADMA (Australian Direct Marketing Association) Forum last week – a simple ten-minute presentation showing an interesting example where an organisation has used mail as part of their marketing communications.

I could’ve found a big, dimensional mail pack with lots of wow-factor but, let’s face it, not many marketers have the budget to do those. So I looked for a nice, simple example of a letter and envelope. And I came across this one from Zurich Insurance, produced by Publicis Dialogue in London (source: Directory, directnewideas.com).

The copy says:

Dear Miss Philips,

Yours sincerely,

<Customer Relations Guy’s name>

Actually, we’ve got lots to tell you about. But we can’t say anything until you tick this box.

Yes, I’d like to receive information about special offers.

According to the case study, the problem was that 25% of Zurich customers had opted out of receiving marketing communications. This letter convinced 7% of recipients to change their mind and opt back in. A pretty good result.

‘Opting out’ is pretty bad news for marketers, because it’s the customer saying, ‘I don’t want to hear from you anymore’. It’s the end of the conversation, and if the customer ended it, it must not have been that good in the first place.

What many marketers don’t really want to acknowledge is that your starting point is this: People don’t care what you have to say.

As blunt as it sounds, it’s true. People are too time-poor and you’re just one of many  organisations yelling and selling at (potential) customers.

So, what’s the solution? Well, it’s pretty simple – don’t create ‘ads’. An ad is something people avoid. Rather than create ads that try and interrupt or invade people’s lives, create something people seek out and engage with. Now, many people might say, ‘People don’t actually seek out ads do they?’ Yes, they do. Provided they’re good and/or relevant enough.

Howard Gossage, muttered these words during the Madmen era, and they’re probably more relevant now than they’ve ever been:

“People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

For example, take a look at The Old Spice Response campaign.

20 million views in the first three days, 40 million in the first week. Website traffic up by 300%, and sales up by 107% – here is a case a people seriously ‘opting-in’ to a brand.

Now, I’m not suggesting we go and make personalised videos every time we want to talk to a customer but there are some important points we can take on board, whatever medium you use…

  1. Successful brands are not defined by a logo, a typeface and a colour palette. Successful brands are defined by what they do and how they do it.
  2. Successful brands push the boundaries. They don’t play by the rules, they rewrite them.
  3. Let your brand speak like a person (i.e ‘Dear <first name> <last name>, As a valued customer…’ is not speaking like a person).
  4. Provided you’re not delivering bad news, have some fun. Fun is infectious. It’s what people want to interact with. If you have fun making your communications, people will have fun watching, reading or listening to them.