The Agency/Client Relationship is Just Fine. (We’re toying with you on this, of course.)

After a 106-day pitch process the marketing director calls one evening at 7 with good news.


A marketing director is on the line at 7PM with the good news.

You’ve won the pitch for a project and they want the campaign up and running. Ideally tomorrow.


After a 102-day search process the marketing director is in a rush.

The next minute isn’t soon enough.

There’s no time to re-assess the work together. No proper de-brief.

You wonder, where’s the breathing space for questions.

At 7pm it’s impossible to research creative ideas further, beyond asking the cleaners.

But sadly, they’ve tidied away the coffee cups, hoovered the carpet and gone.

By the way, asking the cleaners is never a bad idea.

If they’re unsure about your work you may want to think again.

Should you have brought up more questions in the pitch process?

You did of course, but in taking the brief you were at arms length.

More to that, the marketing director did the talking — you were reduced to scribbling notes.

Steve Jobs had a comment about that sort of thing. He said, “If you open your ears instead of your mouth you make more money”.

As part of the pitch process, you sent in 16 questions.

More than a few came back with a one-word answer.

Nobody would be quick to call that ideal.

The next morning … it’s ring-ring again.

But this time it’s you calling the marketing director with the good news.

You’ve been working since he rang and you have further ideas.

The kind of thinking that makes more of the brief.

So at noon a celebratory drink with the client turns into another presentation.

A beer together becomes a starting point, not a finish line.

More of that could be a good thing.

It could warm up the relationship between agencies and clients.





Head-On Collision.

Sergio Zyman, Chief Marketing Officer for Coca-Cola in the 90s.

The head-on collision of ad agencies and clients has been written up more than a few times.

You don’t need me to tell you there’s moaning on both sides.

The unease puts you in mind of McGregor vs Mayweather.

From marketers we hear agencies aren’t responsive to change, they haven’t diversified and they’re overstaffed with management types.

They gripe about ad fraud and whinge about agencies that charge like the proverbial wounded bull.

Moreover, marketers say agencies aren’t knowledgeable about business, agility is iffy and  agency holding companies are focused more on quarterly returns for investors than on shaping the future for brands.

What’s all that if not bruising.

But it’s not as bruising as hearing the agency model is broken, that’s it’s dead.

From the other side, agency people say marketers are sidetracked chasing the latest tech.

We hear ad managers think tactics are everything. They’re wedded to fix-its, not strategy.

We hear the importance of brand purpose is overstated and digital technologies are seen as solutions rather than platforms to deliver content.

We hear fee cuts are a threat to agency viability.

We hear bureaucracies reign and those in Procurement lack marketing vision.

Equally, it’s said too many ad managers don’t know a creative idea when they see one and their briefs carry all the inspiration of an empty bookshelf.

Right enough there’s a rift, agencies and clients aren’t exactly chums.

Maybe we need an advertising and marketing version of Julian Assange to get to the bottom of it.

Only joking on that account but until we see something positive it’s the work that suffers.

We have to put up with drab content and ads that are wearily familiar.

You wouldn’t be wrong to call them advertising chloroform.

So, what’s the cure?

It might be an idea to quash the infighting and begin improving strategies and creative work.

Maybe more sales-focused marketers are required.

We’re thinking of CMOs like Sergio Zyman who was at Coca-Cola in the 90s.

When everyone thought you couldn’t sell more Coke — the market was  saturated — he rose to the occasion.

Zyman increased sales by 50% worldwide over five years.

With that, the stock price went stratospheric. It quadrupled.

Where are the marketers now who are as shrewd, gritty and unwavering?

How about creative work?

Axe the conflict with clients and agencies might have a better chance to produce ads like this one for the Economist.

Can ads can be something the public welcomes? This interactive billboard for the Economist is hope for that.

By putting a premium on engagement it’s winning the battle against creative boredom .

Not surprisingly the public loved it. You heard about it in pub conversations.

Work at this level changes the way ads are viewed, doesn’t it?

Instead of an intrusion, a billboard becomes a memorable part of your day.

There’s a turnaround for you.

Time spent studying great stuff, like the Economist, should blanket marketers and agencies with discomfort.

Discomfort about all the dreary efforts produced these days.

But maybe more agencies and marketers will rise above the bickering and do something about it.

PS. Sir Martin Sorrell exits.

Just read about it in an article by Tom Doctoroff. Don’t miss it:

Docotoroff has a good point: ad agencies should be more than producers of low-end TV spots and print ads … the ones that do little to make brands less anonymous. Doctoroff says agencies should regain their value as a source of ideas. Because to improve and enlarge a brand they are the only place to attract both creative and strategic minds.

Some may quibble with that as there’s a case for say, the creative talent in Dyson’s in-house team. They’re strong.

But you can say the best agencies are active and imaginative in their approach – hugely so. They work to counter fixed outlooks. They go beyond conventional solutions in dealing with recurring problems. They question accepted thinking, they’re not just reactors, they have the creative ability to position a brand well beyond the reach of competitors. And they operate with an autonomy that’s rare in a corporate environment; they often give you a more searching view of your brand outside the four walls of your boardroom.










Can We Treat Customers Better?

As you no doubt know, bowing, Ojigi  (お辞儀), plays a strong role in Japanese culture.

A plane pushes back from the gate, backing into the taxi area.

It stops so the tug can be unhitched from the nose wheel.

Nine ground crew line up shoulder to shoulder facing passengers gazing from the windows.

As one, they bow deeply to the passengers.

It’s only then the plane trundles away to the runway.

In another little scene a man enters a jewelry shop.

He takes a few minutes to view gold necklaces in an illuminated glass case.

He doesn’t buy, but on his way out he is respectfully escorted to the street by a sales assistant.

On the sidewalk the sales assistant bows deeply and thanks the browser for taking the time to look.

You’ve probably guessed this is Japan.

It’s a little different from say, Zales Diamond Store in Manhattan or Best Buy in West Hollywood.

In our part of the world we say the customer is always right.

But the Japanese say, Okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu.

It translates as the customer is God.

More to that, instead of the word ‘customer’ the Japanese opt for ‘guest’ as it connotes deeper respect.

We’ll never be culturally akin to the Japanese in Manhattan or West Hollywood but maybe we can do better in looking after our ‘guests’ and in managing CRM.

At a time when too many marketers believe algorithms are the silver bullet, (how can that be correct?), an effective way ahead might be to concentrate harder on customers.

Maybe we should start creating more memorable customer experiences.

After all, isn’t that how to bring your ‘guests’ back and back?

Without repeat business it could be you who’ll have to bow.

Bow to the superiority of competitors who streak past you.

PS. Let’s hear from you. How are you treating customers like guests? If you’re at Ritz Carlton, no need to answer. Everyone knows you have a lock on going above and beyond.



Learn From Airline Pilots.

Pilots are planners. In a cruise they’re often discussing emergencies that are improbable … but possible.

For long-haul flights like Dallas-Sydney or New York-Johannesburg the pilots take on a special focus.

While in cruise mode they discuss emergencies that are improbable … but possible.

Like engine fires, sudden decompression or turbulence that could lead to a critical situation.

You don’t just fly the plane, it seems, you make the best use of flight time by planning for possible dramas.

So the captain and first officer put together emergency scenarios.

They pinpoint alternative airports.

They judge the suitability of those airports with respect to the kind of difficulties that could arise.

Call them Darwinian in this respect.

They’re planning to put the plane down safely, no matter what.

How about marketers these days, how Darwinian are they?

Fair question as there’s turbulence when it comes to digital.

According to Cnet only 38% of traffic on the web is human.

Marketing Week says only 9% of digital ads are viewed for more than a second.

They go on to say the vast majority of digital advertising is not being viewed at all.

The research firm, Lumen, found that only 4% of ads received more than 2 seconds of engagement.

Marketing Week sums up the problem with this thought …

Many marketers are still failing to apply effectiveness techniques learned from print, direct response and out-of-home to new channels.

They’ve forgotten how to sell.

Well, amazing technology is our genie, but what use is it if your messaging is little more than tripe.

Tripe may be harsh but one thing’s clear …

Too much creative work needs to improve if only to reach the dull level.

More to fraudulent web traffic, Business Insider predicted it would double in 2017.

They went on to say …

According to a new study commissioned by WPP the amount of global advertising revenue wasted on fraudulent traffic, or clicks automatically generated by bots could reach $16.4 billion.

Maybe this is why Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard pulled back from digital.

You might say he’s not unlike long-haul pilots scoping out alternative airfields for a safe landing.

Because when you’re the world’s biggest advertiser — or any advertiser, for that matter — the last thing you need is an engine fire.







What’s Wrong With Algorithms?

Bill Bernbach

In 1947, two years before Bill Bernbach opened Doyle Dane Bernbach he wrote this:

“There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier more inviting reading. They can give you fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Today’s marketers might want to print out these 97 words and tape them to their office walls.

They’re a reminder.

Advanced techniques in computational sciences have yet to produce one thing that’s key for marketers.





What’s Better Than an Advertising Award?

A million years ago Doyle Dane Bernbach had the Mobil Oil account.

Their ads, focusing on driver safety, didn’t read like ads.

They read like public service announcements.

Nothing in the category had ever reflected public safety so strongly.

A stunning advantage for a company selling gasoline.

The long copy convinced you Mobil wanted to be a guardian of your safety.

People liked that.

So the ads were read and read.

Everyone talked about them.

A wag we know suggested offices should have installed additional watercoolers.

That way more people could have gathered around them to yak on about the ads.

The art director Len Sirowitz said that the newspapers called the agency with a request.

The ads were so good, they explained, they wanted to run them for free.

Sounds better than an advertising award, doesn’t it?


Irredentist. Does That Describe You?

Irredentist. Is that some special kind of dentist?

What’s an irredentist?

It came up the other day.

A non-native English speaker in the next office wanted to know.

She’s forever curious to learn.

Does it have something to do with drilling teeth?

We looked it up.

Irredentism is reclaiming and reoccupying lands you believe belong to you.

It’s re-establishing your control over a territory.

In 1982 Argentina’s junta demanded the Falkland Islands back from Britain.

That’s irredentism.

Of course, Mrs. Thatcher thought otherwise.

She sent the fleet to the South Atlantic and sunk the battleship General Belgrano.

Bad luck for the Argies, but understandably everyone wants back what they feel belongs to them.

Including creative people in ad agencies.

Many want to re-take control from business types, financial gurus and planners.

Reason for that comes down to holding company supremos and agency business managers. They seem to be chasing what clients say an ad agency should be instead of defining it.

Misguided, right?

Shouldn’t an ad agency’s identity be driven by brilliant strategies and creative work?

Instead, you get the feeling agency CEOs are often hamstrung fighting rearguard actions against improprieties.

Like supposed over-billing on digital advertising.

Like complaints from marketing companies having to pay for online ads that consumers don’t see. (Is it only robots who see them?)

Like Facebook’s admission last year. They inflated the average time people spent watching video ads.

Plenty of grumbling on those points, but what about great creative work, when will it make a resurgence to become the talking point?

Not soon enough according to some, like the Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman.

Have a look at his presentation ‘Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey’.

Others critical of drab work and mistakes marketers make (like ignoring the most lucrative demographic today: the over 50s) say we’re writing for search engines, not people … search engines that can’t detect emotion, subtlety, irony or humor.

You often hear gripes about that in seminars that go something like this : ‘too many strategies have no force of personality’.

‘Too many ads are dim and wearily familiar.’

Ads like that are the daydream of those who haven’t bothered to read about, understand and use tested advertising methods.

Equally, more than a few marketers take direction from only one source: themselves.

That kind of insularity ensures you’re limited to what’s merely passable instead of what’s exceptional.

One wonders, how do you get away with creative work that’s fallen off a cliff when it comes to anything emotional, gripping and breakthrough?

With ad agencies, isn’t brilliance supposed to be compulsory?

If your selling message isn’t read, what hope do you have of making an impression, let alone a sale? Bill Bernbach was of that mind.

But a new kind of ad agency could help.

Especially if it’s an irredentist one.




The Aztecs Were Shortsighted. Some Marketers Are The Same.

It was here, but it vanished. The Aztec empire.

You may know a bit about the Aztecs.

National Geographic has had more than a few articles on them.

Then there are the conquistador movies. Netflix has some.

If you studied the Aztecs at school you know human sacrifice featured in a big way.

Chests were slit open with obsidian knives and still beating hearts were plucked out to be held aloft to appease the gods … there’s an image for you.

The ritual was to ensure the crops flourished and women didn’t die in childbirth.

Something about it must have found favor with the gods as the Aztec empire was no small affair.

It was a union of three powerful city states controlling Mesoamerica in the 15th century.

Still, the civilization was defeated quickly with the arrival of the conquistadors.

Surprisingly enough it was only a small force, less than 700 soldiers.

Anthropologists tell us the collapse was the result of naiveté about war. A blindness to a more worldly, European view of battle.

The Aztec approach was to take prisoners — that was the measure of victory.

The more prisoners the better as captives were needed for human sacrifice.

Call it a cultural necessity

But against the Spanish it led to a bloodbath.

Aztec beliefs blinded them to the menace.

Which brings us to the way some marketers can be vision-challenged.

That stems from seeing technology as a silver bullet, the answer to all their problems.

Of course, gee-whiz delivery systems, new platforms and big data are a breakthrough, but less so when they blind you to the importance of ideas.

Shouldn’t ideas come first if you expect to change minds and win hearts?

Without ideas messaging is a about as effective as a dog with no nose.

There’s little chance a hound like that will hunt.

More to that, why invest in technology when the messaging you deliver can only intensify boredom.

That has to be mush-headed and self-defeating, right?

We regularly hear what’s needed is persuasion.

But what about brilliance, shouldn’t that be compulsory?

It was in the past.

We’re talking about a level of brilliance that comes with messaging that’s strong on wit, charm and reasoned arguments.

Without that you’re left with little more than a disagreeable intrusion.

So, do you know marketers who can’t see past technology to realize ideas are key?

If so, tell them they have a problem.

Like the one that undid the Aztecs.


Good News For the Police and the Public.

smart is different. That’s reflected in the way the name is spelled with a lower case ‘s’.

Good news for the relationship between the police and the public.

It comes via an ever more popular car, smart.

As you may know, the NYPD drive smart cars.

250 Went into service in 2016. 29 more are on order.

For Manhattan, what could be better.

Size alone gives police officers newfound agility and convenience.

If only the US Treasury Department minted something smaller than a dime. That way you could describe the coin smart can turn on.

Maneuverability is akin to a blob of mercury you can pour through the tightest angles.

And the design deserves hurrahs.

At the heart of the car is a steel cage that’s a wonder of engineering when it comes to protecting occupants. Life-saving stories abound.

We have Mercedes-Benz to thank for all this. smart is their baby.

Oddly enough Mercedes-Benz parentage doesn’t seem to be common knowledge in the States.

Yes, we’re praising smart to the skies, but maybe its greatest advantage has been wholly unexpected.

Somehow as smart drivers the cops seem friendlier and  approachable.

Overnight, law enforcement has become more sensitive than brutal.

Remarkably, the public have developed something of an affection for the police thanks to the smart image.

Well, cute describes it.

More to that, it has prompted dialogue between the law and the public. Suddenly you have cooperation and understanding.

There’s a turn up for the books.

When presented with a $115 fine for double parking, a new respect for the cops might even get you to say ‘thank you very much, sir’.

It’s said the car you drive says a lot about you.

smart proves that.

It proves it to the point law enforcement agencies nationwide might want to take a lesson from the NYPD and buy smart cars.

How smart would that be.


What’s Better Than An Advertising Award?  

In the 1960s Doyle Dane Bernbach had the Mobil Oil account.

Their ads didn’t read like ads.

They read like public service announcements.

Nothing in the category had ever reflected public interest so strongly.

The long copy convinced you the company wanted to be a guardian for your safety.

People liked that. So the ads were read and read.

Everyone talked about them.

The art director, Len Sirowitz, said the newspapers called the agency with a request.

The ads were so good, they explained, they wanted to run them for free.

Sounds better than an advertising award, doesn’t it?