Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Fixing the advertising industry (warning: this post is unlikely to fix the advertising industry)

I got involved in a bit of a heated debate yesterday over on The Ad Contrarian's comments section as a result of a post called "Time For Sorrell To Go". The post is a lament that working in advertising isn't fun any more because huge media groups, focussed on the bottom line, have driven the craft out of the business and commoditised everything.

"They have made it leaner and meaner. They have made it more efficient. They have made it more productive. They have squeezed all the fat out of it. They have also squeezed all the life out of it.

They have replaced ideas with data. They have replaced value with efficiency."

I wasn't around for the good old days, but anybody can see how huge companies work and not just in advertising. They're relentlessly focussed on the bottom line.

This is obviously less fun than not being relentlessly focussed on the bottom line.

Oh and before we go any further, I work for Martin Sorrell. Indirectly anyway. Half the people who work in advertising work for Martin Sorrell. Best be careful with this post, eh?

Most of the complaints about WPP, Publicis, Sorrell et al. could equally be applied to the music industry, or book publishing, or newspapers, or Hollywood movies, or...  Essentially, this is railing against capitalism, as a system that encourages a singular focus on short term financial profit.

Many of our clients demand a minimum acceptable standard for their advertising and they want to achieve this standard at the lowest possible cost. That's unlikely to be exactly how they'd describe it, but that's what they do.

"You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?"
Rockhound (Armageddon, 1998)

This is advertising built by the lowest bidder. It comes from a belief that in reality the minimum standard isn't so far short of the best, that excellence is worth taking risks to achieve. Let's be honest, in many cases that's true.

Any complaint about a WPP inspired race to the bottom that doesn't start by recognising what our clients want is just howling at the moon. Some of the comments on that original blog post (which is partly what dragged me in) bemoan the fact that it's "all about the money".

Well, yes. That's capitalism unfortunately. Advertising agencies are selling a way for companies to make more money. It's what we do.

In my opinion, this is why creative agencies have (largely) lost the 'lead agency' battle; they keep trying to argue that there are good things about adverts, beyond how much product they sell relative to how much they cost, and even if the client Marketing Director falls for it, the Financial Director won't.

Let's get one thing straight right now. A famous ad man once put this better.

The only legitimate purpose of private sector advertising is to sell more of a product.

It has no other benefits to the companies which pay for it.

If you can't handle that, you're in the wrong business.

Everything else is strategy. Sales now or later? Sales through acquisition or retention? Sales by appearing to be cool, or safe? Sales through happier employees? Sales by annoying people or by making them like you?

I don't particularly like that either, but that's the way it is. I think we should all work flexi-time four day weeks, spend the extra free time in the countryside and the world would be a happier place for it, but it's not going to happen. You can't expect a client to pay extra to run their adverts, just to make you a happier employee.

We're advertising in the big media groups' world. It's probably less fun than the times when clients paid more, there was more slack in the system, everybody had more time to be creative and if you didn't come back from the pub after a heavy Friday lunch, well, that was ok.

We can rant about it, or we can do something constructive.

"Screw the system." 

"No, not screw the system. 
Massage the system, 
play the system, work the system... 
but don't screw the system because 
the system's gonna screw you more."
The Chase (a fairly watchable Charlie Sheen B-Movie) 

Big advertising agencies aren't invincible, but they're winning because they offer what clients want.

If you want to do things differently, you have to make a strong case that your way is better.

"Better" means creating more sales with your adverts.

Don't roll your eyes. Read that last point again.

If you can't make the case that your way is better, what are you doing here?

You're an ad man.

Sell it to me.

No comments: