Friday, October 13, 2006

Clients are Stupid

Having spent time on both the agency and client side, it's pretty safe to assume that many agency people feel they've been knocked about one too many times by dumb clients who don't understand advertising.

Apparently clients are stupid. They never go for the creative idea. They advertise by formula.

You can always tell when an adman feels this way. Well intentioned advice gets handed out wrapped in acid.

In Australia, we have a monthly magazine called Marketing. It's the pre-eminent mag for marketers in the country and features a range of articles written by guests and regulars. One of these regulars is a guy called Geoffrey McDonald Bowll from a Melbourne ad agency.

These articles are described on the agency website as 'funny, informative articles - it will give you a good insight into how our agency thinks and it may help you make your decision'.

In the August edition of Marketing, Geoffrey talks about TV creative. He moans about clients wanting formula ads. And sending the assistant brand manager down to the edit suite making adjustments when they're clearly not qualified to do it. And how consumers sooooo recognise formula ads and laugh at the companies. Apparently.

By the way, the reason clients go to edit suites is so that the brand doesn't end up as big as something like this..

Don't get me wrong. I agree with the a lot (not all) of what Geoffrey has to say. A lot of his articles have some fantastic insights and viewpoints. But when I have a message delivered to me in a way which suggests I'm a stupid moron, so I better sit back in my corner whilst I get told how it's really done, I ain't gonna feel real positive towards the brand am I?

I assume this is not how Geoffrey's agency approaches making a TV ad. Let's tell mum she's a dickhead for not buying Omo. It's about the best clean, stupid! Can't you see that?

So why would you address the marketing community this way? Perhaps it's time to stop writing articles telling marketers 'you don't get it so leave it to the experts', and devoting some time to addressing the situation.

Because, yes, many clients don't understand the role of creativity, as I tried to explain yesterday.

I really like the way Leo Burnett in Toronto talks about the issues they face every day. I think I'd like to work with them.

But for now, I'd like to respond to a couple of comments raised in the above-mentioned article, because there's always two sides to a story, and it got under my skin a bit.


Why make good, creative ads?

"Because a good ad or two will make your career for years, if not decades. Because you'll be able to say at the bar, or to your mum, "Yeah, that's one of my ads". More importantly, I hope, I care because I think we ought to make ads the public wants to see."

The fundamental difference between agencies and clients is that in agency-land, creative ads are stepping stones to bigger, higher paying jobs. In client-land, being able to show you've grown a brand by x% and delivered record profit results will usually excite potential employers.

So nice ads are one thing. But they're a means to an end. And the end is selling lots of product.

So making a nice or creative ad isn't something us marketers sit there and get all excited about. It's what that ad will do for our business that get's us turned on.


I buy into the power of creativity. I've only been told once in my career why creativity is so important, beyond the usual 'cut-through, attention grabbing' stuff. And that was three days ago when I actively searched it out on the net. And the answer I got was this one from Adliterate.....

Why are creative ideas a good idea?

"Creative ideas transfer meaning. Or to be more precise, creative ideas allow the consumer to transfer meaning since the idea itself is quite passive." It's an excellent piece.

Additionally, there's plenty of other stuff around. In the book Waking The Giant by Peter Steidl and Kim Boehm, they talk about how because brands are memories, how do we increase the likelihood of our message being:

a) stored in the memory
b) linked closely to the brand
c) activated frequently

It then goes on to explain why ads which cut through, which emotionally engage, which are new and unexpected, which are of a multi-sensory nature etc, are the ads marketers should be striving to produce.

When's the last time your agency sat down and explained to the marketing team this kind of stuff?

I reckon a lot of marketers would be interested in hearing this. Especially from their ad agencies who live by the credo "Creativity is King'.


Breaking the Mould

"You have to do new, rather than a re-hash of old ideas. The more unusual it is, the better it will work? I've seen clients (not ours) who want to know who else in their market has had success with this approach? This is the gutless 'we don't want to make a mistake' approach that guarantees disaster".

So the more unusual it is, the better it will work. Just like A Current Affair trots out the same stories night after night, and has been doing so for 20 years, and is one of the most watched shows in the country.

Being unusual does not necessarily mean being creative. The red meat campaign Geoffrey talks about is a creative and good ad, I agree. But it's not unusual.

This is unusual. And buggered if I know what they're trying to say about Westfield Bondi Junction, the best shopping complex in Australia...

As for the comment about about gutless clients asking who else in the category has had success with unusual ideas, if my Brand Manager didn't ask this question of his agency I would be flabbergasted and a bit pissed.

Isn't it the agency's job to help the client understand what kind of advertising works best in their category? Agencies are the experts. You tell us. Marketers don't spend 100% of their time living and breathing advertising. It's maybe 20%. They're busy being General Managers for their brands and acting as the hub across 30 internal and external functions, and putting out stupid fires. They are jack of all trades.

So as an agency and an expert in advertising, you tell us what's working and what's not and why.


Are Funny Ads Better?

"Funny always wins over anything else. Do you email your mates serious ads?"

I have never heard any proof that funny ads are more effective than ads that are not funny. I just keep hearing the line from agencies that "funny ads work better".

Deliver me a meaningful insight about the target audience that shows why a funny ad will resonate better with them and work better in the context of solving my brand problem, then I'm all ears.

Just don't keep beating me over the head with stuff like this and then make out I'm an idiot for not buying into it.


What You Should Do if You're a Marketing Manager

"An agency will show a brilliant idea to a brilliant client scribbled on a table napkin. Because that's all an intelligent person will need to see the idea. For a dummy, or people they assume to 'visual cripples', they'll get a storyboard drawn up, illustrated in pretty colours etc"

In other words, trust the agency with their idea, even if you are struggling to understand it or it's merits, before you move ahead.

OK, so a client is about to spend $4 million on a campaign, and another $350k on production, and bucketloads of hours, but they should feel alright about this because it's a brilliant idea even it was drawn on napkin. And you're an idiot of you don't get it straight away.

Wow, if I was a marketer I'd be ditching my current agency so I could work with this kind of rigour and attitude.

People think in different ways. Men and women might be a nice example to begin with. The skill level of marketers when it comes to conceptualising new ideas also differs. Live with it and help them through it. But don't call them cripples. Then they might start conceptualising a new agency.


At the shoot

"Yours is not a role that can tell others anything. You're only allowed to watch and, if you're lucky, you can speak with the agency suit"

This must be the 'funny, informative' bit. How dare a client have a point of view. The shoot must be sacred ground.

I've been at shoots where the person has been consuming the product with his hands all over the brand and no-one said anything.

I've been at shoots where a decision about something unexpected came up and I had a different view to the suit about how it should be handled. Surely that's a discussion that needs to be worked through as a team.

I've been at shoots where they've used background products from the competitive company!

I'd heard many similar stories from marketers through the years.

I always try and work with a director who understands he's making an ad (not a film) with my money, and has a vested interest in having a happy client. This is an important part of the selection process.

Of course you stay out of their way as much as you can on shoot days (I've not encountered a situation otherwise). But if something looks out of place then the client has every right to say something. Tactfully and responsibly.

OK, I've got that off my chest now.

For my next entry I think I'll throw a few ideas forward about how to bridge the gap between the different expectations on the agency versus client side.


Anonymous said...

Hey - Thanks for the kind words about us, very nice of you.

Great post - I very much hate the reflexive viewpoint in many agencies that the clients are stupider than agency folk. They're not. They just have different agendas, different things their bosses care about, and different things for which they're compensated. So of course they care about different things. Not better or worse, just different.

Sure, every client makes a boneheaded request every now and then. But so does every creative director. So let's all give up our preciousness.

You're right, we need to spend more time explaining to each other why what we care about (creatitivy, business results, whatever) is important and understanding each other's point of view better. Then the world would be a better place. Or at least our little corner of it.

Great blog. Keep it up.

Laurel Papworth said...

Intriguing comment about agencies. I once worked for an Agency (I didn't last very long) that managed the MacDonald's account. When Maccas wanted email to be implemented between the two (agency and Macdonalds head office) the agency said "oh they are just jumping on 'internet' bandwagon." Ok this was 1995, but I often thought that the client was more adventurous albeit unskilled. I give you three guesses how the agency dealt with Toyota when they asked for one of those 'webpage/extranet thingies' LOL! Far as I am aware that agency does not have the privilege of managing either account today.

With the new style agencies (the consumer as a media agency) I'd be a little worried that if I didn't manage my account properly they will bypass traditional media and go straight to customer co-creation. Think Pepsi with no TV/radio/mags ads earlier this year or Ford moving directly into participatory marketing/advertising. This is not a time to get your clients offside.

Anyway I'm rambling. Nice blog, though I can't work out why the comments merge into each other. :)

Vando said...

Hey there Jason and Laurel

Thanks for your comments. I just started writing this blog to capture some of my thoughts as they popped up from day to day. But the more I get into it the more I'm absorbing myself in the whole blogging community and discovering some really great stuff. And it's nice to know a couple of people are having a browse of my ramblings too.

I've worked with a lot of agencies in my time and there is such a broad spectrum of how they deal with clients culture wise (and vice versa too of course). It seems once a certain type of culture creeps in and things flounder, it's difficult to stop. Only something like it being a mandatory global account stops it from being a failed marraige.

On the other hand, some agencies and clients have a brilliant attitude. There's probably a topic in there somewhere about what things drive an agency's culture. A big topic I would think, but use the word preciousness, and I reckon that sounds like a core principle . On both sides of the fence.

Anonymous said...

Good post (shit isn't that what the spambots write). I love advertising and I love agency side marketing but its time we all asked the naive questions of ourselves and our agencies. Why is it better to have an idea than not? Why is creativity important? what role does humour have? Is an ad a window on the brand or a tactical commercial weapon etc? good on you for starting to ask these questions and demanding intelligent answers.