May 26, 2015

MadMen Meets Funny Girl

Last week, by far the most talked about subject in the advertising/marketing/media axis of ego was the finale of MadMen.

While I am not a fan of the show (I have tried and failed to watch it a few times) there is no doubt that it was a beautifully and artfully produced project.

It was also obsessively followed, commented on, and analyzed by our brothers and sisters in the advertising and marketing industry.

Just about every pundit, blogger, and expert had something to say or write about the final episode last week. By the amount of attention it garnered, you'd have to conclude that it was not just big news, it was a singular moment for our industry.

And if there was ever a clearer indication of the bubble we live in, and how separated and out of touch our industry is with the rest of humanity, it is this -- on the same night the finale of MadMen was airing, almost twice as many Americans watched sixty-year-old re-runs of I Love Lucy.

An extraordinary and highly notable moment for the advertising/marketing/media industry was of not much interest to the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

Now I am sure there are those among you who would say I rigged those numbers to validate the premise of my book Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey -- and believe me, if I could I would -- but I'm afraid I don't have that kind of power. Yet.

As the Amazon blurb for "Marketers Are From Mars..." says,
"...marketers and advertisers have lost touch with consumers and are living in a fantasy land of their own invention -- fed by a cultural echo chamber of books, articles and conferences in which people like them talk to people like them."
I don't know how I could have drawn up a better illustration of this than last week's MadMen/I Love Lucy phenomenon.

What our industry desperately needs is a reality check of epic proportions.

May 21, 2015

The Clients Have Won

I've been traveling this week and busy with other duties. Consequently haven't had time to keep up with my blogging obligations. However, I know some of you need something motivational to get you through your morning toiletry duties, so here's something from 5 years ago. More true today.

Since I started in the agency business back in 1776, I've been aware of a subtle but undeniable tension between clients and agencies over who would control the culture of advertising.

Because the agencies make the advertising, they feel they should control the ethos. Because the clients pay for the advertising, they feel they should control it. Nobody ever comes out and actually says these things, but the strain below the surface has always been pretty obvious to anyone who wanted to see it.

I've always felt it was a healthy tension. The industry needs both the imagination of the agencies and the real-world pragmatism of the clients. The pendulum is never at rest and it is always swinging back and forth giving a little more or a little less influence to each party.  For the most part, however, it has remained within a range in which each party has had a reasonable share of power in determining what the ad industry is, and what it isn't.

I am now starting to feel that the competition is coming to an end and that the clients have won. There are three factors that make me feel this way.

The first is size. Size affects culture. Large entities tend to behave differently from small ones. As agencies have grown to global proportions to match the needs of global clients, agency cultures have undeniably changed to resemble the cultures of the clients. I don't think this has been done consciously. I think it's just a by-product of size.

The tangible manifestations of this are the development of internal hierarchies, the compartmentalization of  functions, and the inflation of titles (is there anyone left who isn't a C-Something-O?) Because the intangible manifestations are less, um, tangible, they are harder to describe. But anyone who's spent some time in the agency world will, I believe, agree that internal agency behaviors and attitudes have a different feel in recent years.

The second factor is people. With the exception of the creative department, it would be hard these days to pick agency people out of an agency-client line-up. They look, talk and act the same. This is not a criticism of either side, it's just an observation.

As for the creative people, they still have bad haircuts and unnecessarily expensive eye wear, but I've been reading lately that we are losing some of our best and brightest to, among other things, the lure of new media. This is alarming. A while ago, in a past post entitled  Crisis of Advertising, I wrote something like this...

Put yourself in the place of a young, talented person. You can work for a big, clumsy ad agency that is toiling for huge corporations.  You'll have dozens of meddlers sticking their sweaty fingers into everything you do. Or you can work for yourself, or a smaller entity, where you don't just use your imagination to sell things, you use it to actually create things.
Our clients may think they need us for our dashboards and our analytics, but the only thing they really need us for is creativity. If we can't deliver that, we may as well close up shop.

The third factor is focus. Agencies seem not as singularly focused on the advertising part of the advertising business as they once were. Each day there seem to be new priorities and different disciplines that closely mirror client-side functions. This has not been helped by the obsession with technology and data.

Agency leaders may be crazy, but they're not stupid. In a time of enormous change and uncertainty, they can see what the winners look like and what the losers look like. The winners look more and more like their clients. The losers look more and more like ad agencies.

In logic, there is something called the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition occurs when it is mistakenly assumed that what is good for the individual is good for the group. For example, it is good for the individual to save his paycheck. But if everyone saved their paychecks, our economy would collapse.

It is probably good for the survival of each individual agency if it yields to the pressure to mirror the values and behaviors of its clients.

However, it is terrible for the industry.

May 18, 2015

Take The Refrigerator Test

Despite all the yapping by marketing experts about the amazing power of online advertising, it has been my impression that, overall, digital advertising has been a weak force.

Yes, there have been some notable exceptions. Google has certainly replaced the yellow pages as the place people go when they are actively looking to buy something. Facebook can certainly make it easier for you to find left-handed plumbers who drink chocolate milk. And every now and then there's a big one-off social media success.

But if you believe, as I do, that the highest ambition of advertising is to build a successful brand, you have to wonder about the past twenty years. Where are the big non-web-native brands that have been built by online advertising?

Twenty years into their lives as mainstream media, tv, radio, print and billboards -- what we now call traditional media -- had built thousands of successful consumer brands in hundreds of categories (made-up number alert.)

People often ask me how I can maintain such an obviously unfashionable opinion about digital advertising? I tell them this: The proof is in your refrigerator.

Open your refrigerator and take everything out. Take out the juices, and beers, and jams, and cheeses, and snacks, and yogurt, and meats, and peanut butter, and mayonnaise, and...

Then make two piles. In one pile put all the brands that were built with traditional advertising. In the second pile put all the brands that were built by online advertising.

I think you will find that you have one pile.

By the way, if you are the guy who was going to write a comment that said, "Oh yeah, well you know everything we buy doesn't go in the refrigerator," don't bother. You can do the same test in your cupboard, your garage, your medicine cabinet, your closet and your desk and you'll come up with the same result.