Too Many Ad Execs Forget This Basic Tenet Of Their Trade

step brothers prestige worldwide presentation

Photo: Flickr/retroking1981

What’s the difference between waiting table for a couple of days in your local diner, and looking after a five-hundred-million-dollar airline advertising account for 10 years?  The answer is that there is none.

It’s simply a matter of scale, timing and a significant difference in remuneration.

Both activities necessitate the satisfactory delivery of a service to the client. Both require the provider of this service to give the recipient the impression they are the centre of the universe for the duration of the activity, and both call for their practitioners to maintain an attitude that will allow them to display the maximum amount of enthusiasm towards their other clients.

Unfortunately, this is the way the advertising agency business is going these days, as we increasingly turning into a “service” business prepared to offer instant gratification for an increasingly shrinking fee. This is because virtually all of the major agencies belong to multinational, publicly traded holding companies; so the quarterly numbers are more important than the quality of both the work and the relationship.

Clients realise this and put ever increasing pressure on their agencies to deliver measurable results faster and cheaper.

Compounding this unfortunate state of affairs is that we now live in a digital age, and just as the music and publishing business has been severely affected by this, so have ad agencies. Oh yes, they will inform you that they are no longer Adverati, they are now Digerati.

They will try to impress clients, both existing and potential, that they are fully “tooled up” with expertise and specialist practitioners in everything from social to viral to crowdsourcing. They will numb you with countless Power Point presentations demonstrating the efficacy of their efforts. These will include Likes on Facebook, Views on YouTube, Followers on Twitter, and Influencers on Klout. They may even drag up a “Sexiest Avatar” on SecondLife!

Unfortunately, these are ephemeral numbers, because as short term social data they are rarely actionable in long term brand building. Remember, back in the Dot Com boom, it was all about building an audience and figuring out how to monetise it later. This is exactly the approach ad agencies are taking now.

Simply put, agencies and their more gullible clients are confusing clicks with content and media with message. Or as legendary ad man Howard Gossage once put it, “People don’t read advertising, they read what interests them, and sometimes, that’s advertising.”   

Yet most of the senior people in advertising are not stupid. It’s simply that the vast majority have no connection with, or understanding of the world they are talking to. They work on the 40th floor of an office in mid-town Manhattan, live in a giant loft in the West Village, or a 10 bedroom fake Tudor pile in Westchester, send their kids to private schools, have personal trainers for Pilate’s sessions, eat sushi and swill Bollinger.

Rarely do they consume Big Macs and 60 four ounce Diet Cokes. Hey… Some of them even take a limo to work!

Compounding the problem is that because of the ever-present need to enhance the bottom line, the experienced (and expensive) creative people who are skilled at creating meaningful content are being replaced with entry-level, digital jocks straight out of the ad school mills, who are in turn, equally inexperienced in communicating with the unwashed masses.

Am I prognosticating the end of the advertising agency? Not at all, they have been around since the practitioners of the art painted graffiti on the walls of Pompeii promoting their clients.

Most will change in the ways they target consumers, but the ones who will truly survive and be successful will be the ones who never forget the core principles of the business they are in.

Principles which haven’t changed since Etna’s ash covered up all that Pompeian graffiti.

NOW READ: Advertising Agencies Have Completely Forgotten How To Use Plain English To Sell Stuff >

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