October 01, 2013

The Search For Miracles

With the exceptions of pop music and fashion, there is probably no more trendy business than advertising.

Every few years we invent a trendy new miracle and everyone immediately jumps on it.

Sometimes it's a media miracle like social media.

Sometimes it's a process miracle like account planning.

Sometimes it's a technical miracle like "big data."

Whatever shape the miracle takes, one thing is for sure: it's going to change everything.

Every agency in the known universe jumps all over the new miracle and it becomes the centerpiece of their website and their new business pitch.

Every agency also becomes expert in this new miracle, and starts up a department to specialize in it. They "brand" it (i.e., give it a stupid name) and develop a pseudo-proprietary flavor of this miracle.

Although what they do is exactly the same as what every other agency does, their flavor usually contains some kind of highly-evolved methodology with circles and arrows and dotted lines and feedback loops.

In other words, it's a muy grande bullshit burrito.

Amazingly, clients believe in these miracles. The way it happens is that the agency usually trots out the example of the company that has been wildly successful implementing the miracle. The fact that this example is two or three standard deviations from normal is never discussed. All that anyone needs to know is that Zappos was a huge social media success, or "got milk" utilized account planning, or, I don't know, someone had a million hits on their QR code, and naive clients start salivating and wanting a piece of the miracle.

The truly sad part is that there really is an advertising miracle. It's called an idea -- a great creative idea. Unfortunately, it's hard to come by and there are very few who can perform it.

The ad business has adopted a very dangerous and short-sighted habit: selling the wrong kind of miracles.

The only real miracle we have in our bag of tricks is the creative one. It's the only one we've ever had.

The most appropriate phrase ever written about chasing the latest trendy advertising miracle was written by someone you've never heard of named Herman Hupfeld.

Herman wrote, "the fundamental things apply, as time goes by."


Mitch Sullivan said...

Yep. Otherwise also known as 'The Easy Button'.

This is also very prevalent in my industry too.

acmasterpainter said...

I have been engrossed in your blog and appreciate the sage words of an older guy who has seen it all. Thanks.

The actual nuts and bolts of my industry are changing rapidly because of legislation, so we are hit with "new" on a daily basis. Our saving grace from not going mad and chasing tails and shadows is we have perspective from being in the business for 30 years.

With latest greatest work practices, we were taught the fundamentals, and there is little room for manouvre with the basics. Our equivalent of your "original idea" is "It is all in the preparation" That underpins old, new or in between work practice, so any innovation that comes along that violates that basic thesis of preparation, is looked at very skeptically / disqualifies itself.

Where it comes to assessing "latest greatest new products", interestingly we are finding that "new" is actually "unknown previously in the UK market". With our connections and experience overseas, we have perspective outside the island. Where many in UK are raving about high performance as though it is a new advance, it has been that way for years in other countries. Keeps us grounded.

And clients really cry out for simple honest to goodness service, no bells and whistles - fair fixed pricing, turn up on time, work cleanly, charge what you quote and keep in touch once the work has been done. All the other stuff like QR codes and big fancy vans and work wear cannot disguise poor basic service, but to be fair, can add a layer of good to a basically sound service.

Tim Latham | Schools Marketing said...

As ever a great post and very true.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

It's been a long time since I've heard my side of advertising referred to as "miraculous." In every agency now, not just the held ones, creative is a department. A smaller and smaller department of the larger clusterfuck of media and account and planning and strategy and whatever.

I always remember your truism: Creatives make the ads, everyone else makes the arrangements. There's a time coming when there will not be creative people in advertising. Most of us can only stand so much. So much disrespect. So much marginalization. So much baseless criticism. So much ignorant bullshit.

I can't wait til it all comes crashing down and clients go, "Hey. Where's the idea?" And realize that they haven't gotten one from their agency in decades. Oh, what a calamitous and hilarious day that will be.

Sell! Sell! said...


Shanghai61 said...

Who is teaching the fundamentals these days? Who actually could?

There's a whole generation of people in advertising now who have been raised in the divisive, fragmented, bean-counting, fashion victim agency culture of the past twenty years, so never really learned them.

People like you and me, who are still around and did actually learn them are either studiously ignored or treated as grumpy dinosaurs. We don't 'get it'.

These neo-conmen suffer from what one might call 'Rumsfeld's syndrome', i.e. they don't know what they don't know, but at the same time are insufferably arrogant about it.

Eccles9 said...

A creative idea that delivers measurable results for the client and return business for the agency? You know, that's almost crazy enough to catch on!

Tom said...

The poems by Roy Campbell springs to mind:

You praise the firm restraint with which they write -
I'm with you there, of course:
They use the snaffle and the curb all right,
But where's the bloody horse?

Conor said...

This is so DAMN true.

Brian Jacobs said...

I've been reading your blog for some while now but even by your high standards this is particularly good. And true.

Jon Pietz said...

The lion's share of the agency's budget and the attention used to go toward that miracle called the big idea. Somewhere along the way, agencies got the idea that they could save money by crowdsourcing the big idea. Now, it's come down to outsourcing the big idea. Clients may be starting to realize they have the option of cutting out the middleman.