Are Ad Agencies Wasting Talent?

Ben Kay's latest blog post is interesting. You should have a read if you haven't already. Loosely, it's about the notion that it takes a lot of effort to do brave work, and that people are naturally disinclined to put in that effort if the chances of the good work being used seem slim.

It's especially interesting if you read the comments, there appears to be a lot of disenfranchised creatives out there, who appear have given up on producing good work and are just phoning it in.

What a sad state of affairs that is for the industry. But I don't think it's the creatives' fault. There's a problem with advertising agencies – they have lost their sense of purpose. Their goals have become confused, they are now more about keeping the client 'happy', building relationships, doing what it takes to not lose the account, keeping the bean counters happy, keeping their awards scores high in the Gunn report, looking good in the trades. All of these distractions from what their purpose should be – that is, using creative thinking helping to their clients meet and exceed their goals.

Agencies have lost that single-minded purpose. The irony is, if they regained it, long-term the effect would be happier clients and better financial results. But they play the short game of not upsetting clients in the short-term, to the detriment of the work, the results and ultimately, the long-term relationship.

I believe there is still a huge pool of clever and talented people in advertising, but they are being crushed within agency systems that are completely off-purpose. It's no wonder you see this level of disillusionment.

When we set up Sell! Sell!, it was with the single-minded purpose of creating the best creative work. Everything falls out of that. Everything. Off the top of my head, to consistently produce great advertising (not just one or two hits a year amongst everyday dross) you need, amongst other things

Happy, relaxed, talented creatives who are challenged but given enough time and space to meet the challenges
Mutual respect between agency and client
Clients who understand (or are made to understand) that the best work doesn't come out of happy-clappy relationships where no one argues
Clients who give the agency space to answer the problem
An agency that is prepared to stand its ground, but respects the client's opinion
An agency focused on producing a great solution, not a menu of solutions
The problem-solvers (creatives) at the centre of everything
People who are afforded a good work/life balance, not worked to the bone every week, which means realistic deadlines, and realistic staffing
A strong and open culture of the single-minded purpose – "It's all about the work"

There are more, that's just a quick list. But all of these things fall out of the single-minded purpose. All of these things exist because that's the best way to consistently get great work. That's what everything we do, how we are set-up, how we work, is built around. Everything we do is built around the single-minded purpose of producing the best creative ideas to help our clients.

Until agencies regain their sense of purpose, I fear that the industry will be stuck in its rut. Clients won't get the best work, good work will continue to be the rarity, client tenure rates will continue to fall, and talented people will continue to be stifled, and their efforts wasted.

What Do People Want From Advertising?

A lot of paper and oxygen is expended in the ad business arguing the toss over how best to use advertising. A LOT.

Some say this, some say that, some say 'tother. It's kind of amusing in a way given how long advertising has been around. There's always something new too, isn't there? Once upon a time it was the USP, then for a while the fashion was to never feature the product, then it all became about branding, rather than products, more recently the fashionable talk is about emotion, and heuristics, neuroscience and behavioural science.

But one thing that always bothers me, is that no one ever seems to ask what do people want from advertising?

Not you, or me. Not the client, not the planner, not the creative, not the creative director, not the director, not the creative technologist, not the industry commentator, not the strategist.

The person. The punter, the customer, the consumer, the target audience – whatever you want to call them.

Most likely, if you asked them, they would immediately say they're quite happy for there to be no advertising. But I reckon if you interrogated that a little, they would maybe accept that some advertising is useful.

I would wager that most normal people – if they accept that advertising has to exist to pay for television programmes, magazines, papers and other content – would like advertising to be honest, fair, transparent, truthful, not annoying, not patronising. Then at another level, to be entertaining or rewarding (in exchange for their time or interrupting their programme) and to serve some useful purpose to them as a customer.

The problem is, that doesn't sound like a lot of advertising to me.

It seems like in the industry we spend a lot of time arguing about what we think is right. And very little considering the point of view of those who are subjected to the results.

The Other Side Of The Coin – Let's Get Social

We are nothing if not fair here at Sell! Towers. So in the interests of balance, as a counterpoint to yesterday's post, here is the other side of the coin...

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The Most Controversial Suggestion In Advertising?




The Most Controversial Suggestion In Advertising?

“Make the product the centre of your advertising.”

It doesn’t sound that controversial does it? But it seems that if you want to use advertising to get more people to buy your product more of the time, your average agency person is likely to sigh and exclaim, “You just don’t get it, do you?”

That’s possibly because the idea of giving people a reason why they might buy your product is out of fashion in the advertising industry. It appears that even the idea of featuring the product at all has become deeply unfashionable in agencies.

Fashionable planners and creatives argue that all products are the same, so it’s just down to getting people to ”connect with your brand”. And they believe that advertising can influence consumers’ attitudes to the brand enough to change their buying behaviour.

Because they think your target audience are stupid.

They think of consumers as emotional zombies who lack decision-making abilities and buy only on feelings. They attempt to woo them with fluffy, happy-clappy ads and emotional mood-pieces that leave no place for the thing that would actually be of interest to the viewer (whisper it: the product).

It’s a point of view that is all-pervasive in the advertising industry.

The trouble is, they’re wrong.
Consumers are people. People like us, people like you.
And they’re way smarter than most advertising people give them credit for.

They know when advertising is being condescending and disingenuous. They’re intelligent and discerning, and deserve to be treated as intelligent and discerning.

We think advertising should treat people with more respect. It should provide them with a good reason to try your product, whilst being charming, engaging and entertaining. We don’t think that all products are the same. We think that’s lazy thinking from people who would rather be making some award-winning film than selling your product anyway.

Our simple belief is that the best way to grow a business or brand is to sell more products. (That’s pretty much how all great brands have been built.) That buying behaviour influences attitudes far more than attitudes influence buying behaviour.

And so the best way advertising can help is by communicating to people why the product might be of benefit to them, what they’ll get out of it. It should be honest and true to the product – and treat the consumer with intelligence and respect.

And it should do all of that in an entertaining, engaging, memorable way. And crucially – in a way that is distinctive in the category. (Because sometimes products are similar – and the way you communicate the benefit gives you the edge.)

We sometimes meet marketing directors and CEOs who feel a sense of relief as we show them that it is possible to feature their products in good advertising, whilst doing a strong job for the brand. (The secret is that every ad says something about the brand, whether you like it or not. The tone, character and approach of your advertising influences what people think about your brand, even if the focus is on what makes the product of benefit to them.)

This all hardly sounds like rocket science I know, but it’s the equivalent of shouting “Jehovah” in advertising agencies today.

And it isn’t just theory. We’ve been taking this approach on behalf of our clients for the last eight years. Putting their products at the centre of eye-catching entertaining, distinctive advertising. Making them the star of the show, not just a walk-on at the end.

We’ve helped to consistently increase sales, and grow their brands in the process. People tend to come to us when they feel they have good products that just aren’t getting the advertising they deserve.

If that sounds familiar to you, maybe we should talk.

Shit Infographic Of The Day

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Stephen Wildish's Taxonomy of Shit. More good stuff from Wildish & Co here .

Like Films... only shitter and with Jessica Ennis

At the weekend I visited my local multiplex. I arrived nice and early, got comfy, and the lights dimmed. Before the movie started - there were 25 minutes of cinema length adverts aka extended versions of sop story narratives tenuously brought back to brand values by tail-ending them with a logo end frame. You don't just find these type of commercials in cinemas, but having all these extended cuts back to back made their efforts to be poignant all the more hollow and cringeworthy.

The grade, the wispy voice, the piano based soundtrack, the slow motion humanity stuff - given the cinema setting and the length of these ads they transcend into something akin to a Terrance Malick movie... only they're not, they're really really not. No matter how poetic the script and all the money that's pumped into the production - any moment you're waiting for them to link all those adjectives the vo's been listing back to ... you guessed it ... the Brand.

Enter a fake-panting Jessica Ennis, a bank logo and half a screen of legal supers detailing how they're going to take your house unless you keep up payments. Santanders' attempt at story telling lasted a total of 120 seconds with a 90 and following 30 to really hammer it home. I love going to the movies, and don't mind an ad or two whilst my eyes and buttocks are adjusting - but it all got a bit silly, and judging from the audience's groaning as they were subjected to the brand launched emotional barrage one after another - reality check time.

Cinema advertising can be a really powerful media - you've a relatively undistracted captive audience, and amazing sound and picture quality to play with - but for the love of god just because you're playing in a cinema before a Film does not make your advert any less of an advert. Sell things!

Luckily the film eventually started - and for two hours Captain America showed me with his fists and sexy sidekick why Capitalism is awesome.