May 29, 2013

The Dull-Witted Stepchild Of Marketing

Yesterday's post about the need to rid our industry of the people who are destroying it --  Martin Sorrell and his ilk -- generated an extraordinary response among the readers of this blog.

Strangely, it also generated an unexpected response in me. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I am not a callow idealist who thinks the advertising industry was ever charming or amiable. But we did have our virtues.

We tried to be creative. We weren't focused solely on money. We weren't as willing to shut up and go to our room.

Sadly, we have become the dull-witted stepchild of the marketing industry. We are the dummies who have to be dragged along. We are the dimwits who "don't get it."

Advertising leadership has been stolen away from us and given to data people and tech people and accountants and god knows who else. And all we can do is stand there and watch our stature diminish.

Our industry has been hijacked by dull men in grey suits. They are the leaders. We are the stragglers. When they say make a banner, we say how big?

It doesn't have to be like this. There are still great agencies who do great work. But they are being swamped by the tsunami of consolidation and homogenization.

The influence of huge organizations is always the same: People start to talk alike, then they start to act alike, then they start to think alike.

This is not healthy for the ad business nor is it healthy for the people who work in it.

We are going through a period that is dangerous for our society and dangerous for democracy. The tide of corporatization and conglomeratization is leading to the concentration of too much power in the hands of too few people.

The ad industry is just a microcosm of this. But, sadly, it is the microcosm we have to live in every day.


Eccles9 said...

As a wise man once observed "Creative people make the ads. Everyone else makes the arrangements."

Cecil B Demille said...

At some point, there won't be any creative people left willing to be whored out by the idiots in charge. The sad thing is that, when the last of us have finally had it and trudges out the door for the last time, no one will likely notice. Creative has been homogenized so completely that "anyone can do it." We've been marginalized so far into the ether that we may as well be ghosts.

And the people who caused it are either dead and gone or too far away for a ghost like me to haunt.

Trevor said...

I have a lot of sympathy with this view, but I do believe that the power actually lies with the client and not with a few powerful people in grey suits. The second clients say, you know what, we want the best damn creative idea/execution we can get and we will trust our agency to deliver this and pay the going rate for it - the agencies that are set up to deliver this would be in pole position to win the business and not the big multinationals. The problem is clients no longer see the value in taking this approach, so it's for these small, nimble creative agencies to do a better job of selling the dream.

It's the same argument with supermarkets. Consumers unfortunately(?) want long life white bread for $1 from their supermarket instead of paying $1.50 for a top notch wholemeal, baked in store, loaf. But that's not the supermarkets fault.

Tim Parry said...

Sometimes I think maybe this has to happen. Maybe we have to do a tour of duty in the wilderness before another Bill Bernbach comes along and says 'wait a minute - there's got to be a better way of doing this,'

Sell! Sell! said...

I'm not sure I agree Trevor. You get the clients you deserve, as they say.

As an industry, ad agencies have, in effect, trained clients to expect more for less (and complete subservience) through their behaviour.

Clients only think it's okay now because over the last couple of decades agencies have allowed and encouraged them to think this way.

Rob Hatfield said...

What I don't understand is that if it is all about the bottom line, why don't companies that hire Sorrell's agencies realize that they are paying his $20 million a year salary and getting absolutely no ROI from it?

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I'm rootin' for him!

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Tim Orr said...

CB Demille says: "At some point, there won't be any creative people left willing to be whored out by the idiots in charge." Sorry. I'm betting that's not true. I see a remarkable similarity between advertising and the long-haul trucking industry: The barriers to entry are so small that just about anybody can hang out a shingle and call himself a trucking company (or an ad man. In fact, it costs less to call yourself an ad man than a trucking company).

The shipper/client knows there's no shortage of us, so makes us do exactly what they want done for the price they want to pay. And we're too stupid or too hungry or too romantic to say "No!" Because we need the money – or the delusion that we're "in" the ad biz. So there'll never be a shortage of willing ad people.

Somebody on another list is collecting opinions about what ad people should do when a client puts the arm on them to give kickbacks. My money says the overwhelming majority of recommendations will be to fire the client. My experience says the overwhelming majority of ad people will pay the kickbacks.

Every advertising autobiography has an anecdote about the time "I told the client, it was my way or the highway," and then, the client came crawling back, begging the ad person to forgive him. With a tiny few exceptions, all of those anecdotes are fantasies and never happened.

If you can produce tangible, verifiable results, you may not be able to bend the client to your will, but you will find it much easier to replace him.

Shanghai61 said...

Funny coincidence that it's been the same twenty years that the holding companies have been swallowing up the industry.

I was working at BMP in London when it listed. My boss, (who profited from the IPO shares, as did I in a small way), said he thought it was a huge mistake. "You can't serve two masters. We used to be able to focus exclusively on our clients, and now we have to answer to the Stock Exchange, too." He was more right than he could ever have known. We were better when we were privately owned companies. At least the merchant bankers were realistic about the nature of the business cycle (back then, anyway).

There's a comment above about firing the client. It doesn't happen now because nobody who works for a holding company owned agency has the authority to do that any more.

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Cecil B Demille said...

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If you're willing to endure it, I dare say you're not really creative in the traditional sense. More of a masochist who can write a headline or lay out an ad.

I'm not some rank sentimentalist who pines for the good old days. I missed the good old days by a solid twenty years. I am, however, interested in being valued. I am not a bean to be counted. The value of my work to clients far outweighs what I make now or ever will make for myself.

If you believe that good work begets more clients, you should market those rose-colored glasses. Good work doesn't keep clients any more. I've been at two agencies that did stellar, successful work and were circling the drain anyway. One because its top client hired a new marketing director who wanted a "New York" agency. In the other, key clients – all long-time and successful – cut their ad budgets. Either the agency contact left or they didn't think they needed advertising any longer.

Advertising isn't about the quality of the work now, not primarily. It's about "added value" and "action teams" and bullshit that doesn't sell anything except half-assed work for half price to a client who would rather hire an agency by name than by the quality of its work.

I've lived it. It's my perspective. If you have not lived it, I am envious. As George Carlin said, "Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist." I guess that would be me.

Chip Haskell said...

...and when everyone thinks the same, no one's really thinking.

Alex Clifford said...

Because with CMOs, it's not their money. They have a job. If they get fired, they'll find another one.

They don't really care about their business. All that matters is what their boss thinks of them. And their boss trusts them to make good decisions about the marketing budget. *well, until it fails*

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