Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Advertising Agencies Short On Real Ideas

Masterful. Simply Masterful. Hats off to Advertising Age Magazine's columnist, Jonah Bloom for summarizing Madison Avenue's decline so succinctly.

There was a time when CEOs went to advertising meetings and advertising meetings contained use of the word "sales." But the ad agencies couldn't stand the heat so they had to get out of the kitchen. So CEOs stopped going to advertising meetings and advertising meetings started using the phrase "generating awareness and recognition" which is Greek for "if we through enough stuff against the glass, something might stick." And thus began Madison Avenue's downward spiral and the implementation of "pay for performance" advertising. Madison Avenue's copywriters and strategists were given the liberty to dig heir own graves.

Ten years ago it had gotten so bad that the 4As (The American Association of Advertising Agencies) had to close the career page (the place where ad agencies could post jobs and candidates could post resumes) on their web site. In its place, for a short time, ran a sign that read: "Due to the miserable economic conditions on Madison Avenue, the AAAA has closed the career page. Because it is unlikely that this condition will change anytime in the near future, the AAAA has elected not to make an investment to upgrade or republish the career page."

So read Jonah Bloom's column. Wonder why advertising agencies can make messages so fun, and underlying messages (the big ideas based on rich, robust and proprietary insights) so bad. Visit McCann-Erickson's web site. See the "mental jellyfish" yourself. If a picture is worth a thousand words, would you hire this agency? And if you did, why would you stay? Yes I like Leo's pencil. I used to work there too and hold it in reverence. But the doodling is too symbolic. Account groups and clients argued for months over who would pay for original research to "ferret out" the big idea. Since no one paid, strategy flew by the seat of the pants of the highest executive - which is not a big idea - nor in anyone's best interest save those in their chair - and paid handsomely to do so. And if you are new or coming up in the industry at Coke or P&G do not become redirected by obfuscation or side issues such as media selection and social marketing. So you make a bad buy. So what? Wayne Gretsky says, "You miss every shot you never take." And I'd like to add that if you are not making mistakes you are not learning. If you are not learning, you are not growing. Social Marketing? Chase consumer ears and eyeballs wherever you find them. My view is that television and computers are for learning, or to escape. But they are singular experiences - anti social - for every moment in silence engrossed in some show or pinned to some blog is a moment we are not actually talking to another human being.

Jonah? You accused ad agencies of being commoditized and homogeneous. Vanilla. You are correct. That is the problem. What is the solution? Owner-executives. Not home grown. Not industry grown. Mavericks. How do you find them? They are few and far between. But don't call recruiters. They seek the "classically trained." Those in the industry loop and those just graduated still in the process of learning everything for the first time themselves. So pay attention clients. You'll have to find owner-executives yourselves. A wise, and rich man once told me that, "Life is a matter of exposure. The more you expose yourself to, the more likely you are to succeed." So find those as different rather than as alike you as possible. And I don't mean irreverent creatives who shun suits. I mean those with ideas to which you are violently opposed because "we" [you] cling to our ideas more tenaciously than our most prized material possessions - which can vanish when we can no longer wholesale our time for a paycheck because an account was lost or sales plummeted. (Let me tell you about IBM's founder who retained the man who made a $600,000 mistake sometime) In collaboration with this difference is the strength of bigger ideas. It's genetics. The bigger the differences between two, the stronger and more beautiful the offspring. Thanks for the stimulation Mr. Bloom. I'm tickled.


Unknown said...

What do you think of this ad >>>

H. Martin Calle said...

Everything was great until you got to the piano playing part. Re-edit.