Category Archives: ad agencies

Brilliant ideas are commodities (Part 1)

What I find interesting is that within ad agencies, 99% of the conversation about what they do is focused on “the creative idea,” and yet outside of ad agencies, 99% of what people talk about in communications is the change in media channels. Go on Twitter and try to find 20 tweets about an advertising creative idea that rocks in the next 5 minutes; good luck (Super Bowl week doesn’t count). Go on Twitter next and try to find 20 tweets about what Apple is doing with its upcoming hardware gizmo, and you’ll go “check” in a few seconds. People are obsessed with media channels and tools; agencies keep talking about ideas. Therein is a disconnect. The intersection of media channel and creative idea is rarely explained, although a few smart shops such as BBH Labs have discussed ending the top-down creative-to-media funnel and building a more integrated planning whole.
Or put another way, good creative is now a commodity.
The reason I suggest this is in a world where people watch 5 hours of TV a day seeing 166 :30 second spots, or spend 3 hours on the Internet a day being exposed to thousands of banner ad and video pre-roll impressions, 99% of creative ideas are ignored. Completely. Creative is really now a pass-fail grade — you get noticed, or more likely, you don’t, and even if your idea is in the 10% of brilliant executions, you’re still competing with 16 other top-of-the-heap TV spots and a few hundred other banner ads.
Go ahead, build a brilliant idea. You’ll be one of 50 or so I’m exposed to tomorrow.
This is not a negative; advertising is as always a game of what we catch, not what we spill. You could argue as well that good ideas and creative are more important than ever before in a world agog in communications overload. But this commoditization of idea brilliance is a real problem, and you can see it yourself if you measure the downcycle timeline of any big “idea” that goes viral. Most newfound memes spike but for a few days and then disappear. See ya, Skittles homepage.
What I’d love to see, if I were a student in Edward Boches’ class on creative, is how the construct of media channel and the pinnacle of brilliant creative inform each other, instead of the “idea” itself being something separate. This combination is the only path I see to truly breaking out and building something with sustained power and resonance.
Reposted from my comment here. 

Image: Nixter

Dammit, Advergirl. We’ll never wear black socks again.

Are you about to meet with an agency team? Advergirl, aka Leigh Householder, advises you to size up ad agency personae by the types of socks they wear. Brilliant! For example, here is how she suggests you judge an agency sort who wears black socks.

Chances are you’re talking to the new biz guy. Used to spending his day traveling from one clich√© corporate headquarters to another, he’s mastered the skill of the chameleon – blending in to his environs as if he had been there all along. Save the snazzy socks for those arty guys.

But, there’s a chance, too, that you’re dealing with the most treacherous kind of ad guy: the irrelevant middle manager who doesn’t yet know he’s irrelevant. This guy had a good year. An incredible year. A year that has made the agency loyal to him. Sadly, that year was over a decade ago. And since then, things have been … well, slow and sometimes, frankly, embarrassing. But, like the aging athlete who once won the big game in high school, this guy still believes he’s in the glory years. Align with him and take on all his gossipy baggage as your very own.

To tell the difference between these basic blacks, check the shoes. The new biz guy’s will be plain and shiny. The irrelevant middle manager, genuinely bad. Possibly even striking a jarring and unpleasant contrast to his pants.

We’re pleased to see our horizontal stripes make us the closer and strategist. Or, perhaps just a narcissist with funny-looking feet.

(Photo: Twenty Questions)

Shopping for interactive agencies until the cows come home

We’ve been thinking about our last post on how nearly half of CMOs are about to fire their current ad agency. Why? Could be the economy; could be the fact that most chief marketing execs last only 2 years, so mathematically about half are new anyway and probably looking to build their own team.

And then we saw Adweek had an interesting nugget: the first agency on the chopping block is typically the web design group. Egad. Why would 45% of CMOs consider whacking the interactive brains first?

We think that there’s one simple reason … many interactive shops, despite their talk and analysis about the trends in the market, are focused more on the web product and less on the web strategy. Interactive agencies grew up designing cool sites, and they still love to do so. And in 2008, single sites matter less and less.

The great irony of web shops is they focus, well, on web design — and single sites are becoming obsolete. Back in 1996, a good web site sought to be sticky and create careful pathways to keep customers within your web site pen. But today, the customer cows have broken through the fence and are out in the neighbor farm fields, on mobile and Facebooks and Twitter and texting and Second Life and blogging and YouTube and Seesmic. There’s a lot of new hay out there, and the cows ain’t coming back.

The solution is for marketing executives to get better results, and for interactive agencies to offer more comprehensive service. It’s good to have pretty HTML, boys. But if you can’t cast a broad web strategy that drives in new customers at higher profits, using keyword search and ad networks and microsites and a constellation of pull behind the HTML, there’s probably a new interactive agency getting an RFP tomorrow who can.

The pitch

We’ve been thinking about business development lately, having won a few and lost a few. People who haven’t worked at agencies may not realize the amount of effort that goes into business proposals. On one hand, “selling” seems trivial, like the empty promises of a guy with greasy palms at a used car dealership … but in business sales, a team studies the client organization, maps out economic levers, makes calls to resources, sketches ideas, and begins developing the entire solution ahead of time … to try to convince the client that we’re worth paying.

It’s fascinating work that keeps the mind nimble, euphoric when it succeeds, and disappointing when it fails. It’s probably one of the greatest competitive forces in the new economy, as knowledge workers have to compete with each other to get the next contract or project. If you can’t really figure out how to deliver value and move the levers that generate results, you lose and the other guy wins.

Maybe all organizations should move to agency models, even inside their walls. Instead of having secure jobs, employees would have to pitch their bosses every day if they wanted to be paid. Employees would drive in on their commutes racking their brains for new solutions, instead of zoning out to the radio. And employers would be inundated with fresh visions every day.

A model of productivity for the new century: Business development.