Ad Agencies Have Outpaced The Audience That Matters Most

Vintage Ad 1950s

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As I have said many times over the years, I would like to make it mandatory that everyone in advertising read David Ogilvy’s first book, “Confessions of a Advertising Man” at least once a year.Even though it was published over 50 years ago, and in spite of today’s never ending onslaught of digital, social, datametrics, viral, crowdsourcing and all the other flavours of the month being promoted by the latest “Agency of the Future,” the basic principles laid out by David all those years ago, still hold true for the ad biz.

That’s why I was intrigued to read a piece on by Mike Wolfsohn, co-founder of West Coast agency, High Wide & Handsome, titled “Agencies are Doing Just Fine, Thanks,” in which he addresses three commonly applied criticisms of today’s ad agencies…

1. Agencies aren’t that innovative.

2. Their lack of innovation inhibits them from attracting the right talent.

3. Clients have ceased to look at agencies as critical partners.

I thought that his answer to the first was a perfect encapsulation of something I have been preaching to the choir about for years… He believes that, in fact, agencies have innovated too quickly. In their attempt to impress the trade media, other agencies and, most importantly, prospective clients, ad agencies have outpaced the audience that matters most: consumers.

How many times do we read in the ad trades that yet another BDA (Big Dumb Agency) has created the post of “Digital Viralistic Curation Officer,” in order to enhance the social interface between the client’s brand and the consumer’s experiential expectations! And if you can tell me what that means, you win a year’s free subscription Business Insider… Oh, wait a minute, it is free.

However, back to Mr. Wolfsohn’s point, even in this digital/social/whatever day and age, the reason most clients hire ad agencies is to produce advertising, which will in turn sell their product or service. If it doesn’t do that, and the client’s “experiential expectations” aren’t met, you can bet your bottom dollar the relationship will not last for long.

Ergo: As David says, why not stick to your knitting and simply create great advertising? Yes indeed, but this can only be done by having the right people on staff to do it, which leads us to point 2: As David said 50 years ago. Hire great people, pay them well and treat them well.

Unfortunately, this is becoming far too rare these days, and that’s because of point 3: In recent years agencies have increasingly bastardized themselves as they shave margins and operating costs in order to win accounts.

This means that instead of presenting themselves as creators of a valuable intellectual property which should be measured on the success and value of its results; they compete for the client’s business at the same level as vendors of janitorial services. It should therefore come as no surprise to advertising agencies that many clients are increasingly looking at them as vendors of easily replaceable services.

Read David’s book again. Then read mine… Mine’s the one with the sexy bits!

George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, “Confessions of a Mad Man,” makes the TV show “Mad Men” look like “Sesame Street.”