There's a scene from Frank Capra's classic 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life," in which George Bailey (who's never been born) and Clarence, his guardian angel stumble into a bar, Nick's Place to warm up after their falls into a freezing river.
The great tough guy, Sheldon Leonard plays Nick and when Clarence orders something fancy, he gives the two men an earful.
Nick: "Hey look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere". Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?"
What's interesting to me is that Nick knew more about his business than most marketers know about theirs. He could define it in half a sentence while defining his target audience in the second half.
Today we have car companies that want to be about joy. Coffee companies that want to save the rain forests they are ripping down, soda companies that want to be about doing good while they are obesifying large swaths of the world. Agencies are probably the worst offenders. They might have the world's largest ad spenders as accounts but they lavish more time and attention on pro-bono accounts or their efforts to raise money for Japan. None are sure what business they are in.
It all gets a little tiring.