Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dumb trends, and an old idea.

One of the big trends in the advertising industry, say for the last three years or five, is for clients to forego having an Agency of Record. There are two ways to go about this. One, you can build an in-house agency. Two, you can parcel out different assignments to different agencies, or even have various agencies compete over individual assignments.

I don’t think either of these ways of working will ultimately serve a client’s business.

As for in-house agencies or departments, they cannot, ever, under any circumstance, fulfill the most-important role an agency fulfills. That is, they cannot be “outsiders.” They cannot provide an independent perspective. In most cases, they can’t even be honest. Which is the basis of any relationship.

I have a simple way of thinking about in-house agencies. They’re like going to your mother-in-law for marriage counseling.

Even if somehow these captive agencies can hire stellar talent, I don’t believe they can give that talent the permission to be contrary. You can’t be a whistle-blower in the Soviet Union. Not without getting shot, anyway.

In fact, I don’t think in-house agencies are able to be agencies at all. They are not allowed to do what agencies do when they’re doing their best—that is provide a different, outsider point of view. Without that point of view you get marketing that is in-bred. Marketing that pleases the bosses who commission it, without considering others’ opinions and a different way of looking at a problem.

The second trend, the parceling out of assignments to various agencies I also think is doomed to mediocrity.

Agencies, again when they’re at their best, have accumulated tiers of knowledge on their clients’ behalf. Not only do they know the ins-and-outs of the products they are selling, they know their target audience and they know what’s been done before. All that knowledge can only be accumulated over time.

It will be interesting, to me anyway, to see what happens at Lowe’s as they shift their account from BBDO (it was there for 12 years) to a string of smaller, less renowned agencies. My bet is the work will be less interesting, less persuasive and less effective.

About 55 years ago Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis, said to Bill Bernbach, my competitor has five times the budget, five times the cars, and five times the counters. To compete, I need advertising that’s five times as effective. How do I get it?

Bernbach said, “If you promise to run whatever we recommend, every creative in my shop will want to work on your account.”

Obviously, I’m biased, and I have an axe to grind. But I believe in Bernbach. If you want great work, it’s relatively easy to get it. Get out of the way and let people do it.

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