Saturday, December 7, 2013


When I was a kid in the advertising business I had the great good fortune of working for the in-house agency at the great retailer, Bloomingdale's.

The pay was low, the hours were long but I worked there at a special time--the store was booming--and a lot of the people were very smart.

One of the great plusses of working there is you got briefed on the ad you had to write right by the buyer or associate buyer of the merchandise. Their success depended on the quality of the ad. The good ones knew this and would brief the boredom out of you.

One morning the buyer of down comforters came into my little office. He was carrying an eider down comforter and a feather. He made me cup the feather in my hand. Almost immediately, I felt heat emanating from the feather.

The ad needs to be about this, he told me.

Today, the distance between creatives and the merchandise or service they are charged with selling is usually vast. Time pressures are so great creatives often don't have the time to muster up the empathy needed to understand the product and the customer.

Not only do most ads seem to use stock photography, they also seem to use stock language with stock benefits. What's more, agencies and clients seem to think they benefit from stock creative people. Creatives with no learning on a brand are often asked to work on it--and they're given no time to even begin to gain brand knowledge.

This may come as a shock to the bean counters who run the holding companies and who run clients' procurement departments. Ideas, ambition, talent and people are not interchangeable parts any more in advertising than they are in second basemen.

When everything is treated as if it's generic, work becomes generic. When the work becomes generic, the only differentiator is price. And when only price matters, everyone goes bankrupt.

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