December 8, 2009
(Originally published in "Retail Automotive Summary", Nov. 20th, 2009 by CNW Research)
John Noble, one of the more famous Doyle Dane Bernbach Creative Directors used to tell a joke that made account weasels wince.
According to John, a woman went in to see the same judge for the third time in what appeared to be a very short period. The Judge looked at her and demanded why she kept clogging up his calendar.
The woman replied: "Well, your honor, my first husband was an older man, and by the time he got interested, I was asleep."
"My second husband was a younger man, and by the time I got interested, he was asleep."
"Well." demanded the judge, "what's wrong with the third man?"
"Your honor," replied the woman, "my third husband is in advertising. He just sits on the foot of the bed all night long telling me how good it is going to be."
Unfortunately, John was less than half wrong...then and still.
Marketing is a team sport. If it is going to work, it needs to touch anyone and everyone who comes in contact with the customer, from the lady who makes the payments to the guy who sweeps the floors.
The marketing group needs to provide the agency with something it can talk about.
And everybody needs to understand that absent profitable sales, there will be no budget. But far too often, a client in desperate need of a positive sales bump is offered reorganizations and rehashing of old ads and strategies. Maybe even a creative director asking, "Do we really need this ad?"
It is usually up to the account weasel who has responsibility for everything that happens with the client, but authority over none of the people working on the clients business, to come up with a fix.
Since the account weasel is asking the agency to do work... this is called spending money... and everybody else, from senior management to the traffic department, doesn't want to do more work, the result is perfectly predictable: The agency introduces the client to their "Great New" account manager who will fix the client's problems with the snap of his fingers while the rest of the agency remains un-annoyed by client requests for new work.
When the client figures out that his agency's management is more interested in its own numbers than his, and is therefore cutting staff in advance of his budget reductions, rather than investing in him and their relationship as they would if it were a new business opportunity, he generally calls a review. This is what remains of the old white shoe advertising behavior we grew up with. Review is a polite way of saying; "You're fired."
The new agencies sniffing after the client's account are still expected to invest between $250 thousand and half a million bucks to "pitch" the business. But clients are increasingly unwilling to help even the winning agency recoup the costs of pitching the business...and many don't bother.
The Business of "New Business" is now dominated by consultants analyzing media costs and creative fees, and advising "you really don't need good people." The impact of the creative campaign has become a secondary consideration, as is the chemistry between the agency and client operatives who are supposed to produce advertising that will give the client an edge, and the agency new business opportunities.
(Chiat/Day promised Lee Clow would be directly involved in the Nissan business knowing full well they had already promised 500% of Lee's time to other accounts. When Hyundai complained about the 25% of his time Carl Spielvogel had promised to the account, Carl explained that the Hyundai allocation was not composed of his "regular time," but the "overtime" he dedicated to the Hyundai business.)
If all of this sounds insane, it is. Why an agency would refuse to invest additional creative resources to a long-term client fighting for survival... or why a client would hire a new agency who will insist that their product first needs to be "repositioned" with a series of multi-million dollar ads that may or may not include any reference to the product, and then should be given a year of on the job experience is beyond logic.
Blame it on the agency culture developing across the world. Half of what used to be agency income is now devoted to paying down the debt agencies owe to the fat old men who founded the joint.
The funny thing about all of this is that media distribution is one of the few markets that are actually working.
The cost of eyeballs is pretty much a constant. For every medium that gains a hundred thousand of same, somebody somewhere else loses them. The winner raises his prices, the loser lowers his, and all is right with the universe...so let us not speak badly of our media generation; let us not speak well of it either; let us not speak of it at all.
What we seem to be doing is forcing traditional media to compete with the CPMs or Click Throughs, or whatever is achieved by digital media.
As a result, we are pitching new business with Internet viewer costs while assuming the impact of a digital ad is the same as the impact of more traditional-based media advertising.
This is an industry that sells itself on the basis of its ability to move awareness and impressions North. But the cost of Internet ads is still not understood and can't be measured in any way that does client-marketers any good.
In the mean time, we are undercutting the income of traditional media to the point where they can no longer afford to hire the editorial staff that brings in the readers that we, as advertisers, want to buy.
So we wind up spending more money to get the same impact even at cheaper prices.
I understand that this is a new world, and just because I'm writing on the Internet doesn't mean I know what I'm talking about. But advertising impact, like most things, tends to follow a normal distribution pattern: 10% of the work is extraordinary; 10 % of the work is just awful; and 80% of the work is just there.
Academics have crunched these numbers to the point where they can demonstrate by facts and figures that a 1% increase in creative performance is 20 times as efficient as a 1% increase in media spending.
The problem is nobody quite knows how to measure creative performance, at least before the fact. And almost by definition, creative impact involves a fresh look at how to say what you want the consumer to hear.
No client ever got fired for doing exactly the same thing as everybody else.
Missing from the equation are respect and trust; two virtues our agency selection process seems to attempt to intentionally eliminate, along with the magic of creativity.
There is a story of a copywriter, an art director, and an account weasel huddling in an Upper East Side bar, decorated with ferns and recently reproduced seventeenth century sea-going brass.
They had just survived what we in the business call a "good meeting."
Drinks were served. Note pads were spread out on the table, when a Genie sprang out of the (real, antique) lamp the copywriter had been fondling at the table. An enraged Genie appeared, and struggling to pull a fern fond from his exhaust port, looked at the three advertising weasels muttering, "Jesus, not another Upper East Side Fern Bar," caught their eyes, and announced that the rules had changed. They would get one wish each, and he would be gone. Staring at the copy writer he demanded,
"What do you want?"
The copy guy responded; "I want to go to the Florida Keys and write the next great American novel."
"Is that all?" The Genie snapped his fingers, and the copy man was gone.
"And what do you want?" Now glaring at the Art Director.
Without missing a beat the Art Director announced he wanted to go to Paris to lead the direction of the next great art movement.
"That all?" said the Genie. Snapping his fingers again, the Art Director was gone.
Finally, the Genie looked at the account weasel and demanded, "And what do you want?"
The account weasel looked around the booth, around the bar, down at his notes, and finally back at the Genie.
"I'll tell you what I want," said the account weasel, "I want those two asses back here right now."
The story is closer to client perceptions of the agency business that many might care to think.
Jimmy Sanfalippo, head of Marketer of the Year Hyundai's in house advertising agency attributes his success to "Clarity at the top and talent in the ranks."
Until agencies can figure out how to create a similar respectful and trusting relationship with their clients...one in which the client knows we are dedicated to solving her problems...we will remain sitting on the end of the bed, telling her how good things are going to be.