Jun 19, 2008

It's Not My Job, Man

Years ago, when I worked at the legendary Anderson & Lembke, Steve Trygg (who started the shop) was fond of saying that “an ad agency can be the contractor or it can be the architect. And you always want to be the architect.”

Now what he meant is that you could be the trusted partner the client went to for advice and guidance on all matters strategic.

Or you could be the guys who made the ads.

And since “the guys who make the ads” were a dime a dozen, you wanted to be a bit less replaceable.

I was reminded of his point last week when I witnessed a somewhat disturbing exchange over on BBH London CD Simon Veksner's Scamp blog. He had praised a series of spots from Droga Five for a start-up phone service called Net 10. And with good reason: they’re wonderfully entertaining spots.

So entertaining, that I set out to see if Net 10 was worth switching to.

And there, as the saying goes, my troubles began.

Like any reasonably savvy consumer, I turned to Google and entered the phrase Net 10 Phone Service Reviews. What came up were a bunch of mediocre reviews from fairly reputable sites (e.g. amazon.com) almost all of which mentioned the company’s horrible customer service.

So no Net 10 for me.

Now what was particularly disturbing about this is that the entire ad campaign is based on the premise that other phone companies are “evil” and Net 10 is not. And if you’re going to be calling other phone companies evil, you’d better not have dozens of online reviewers throwing that moniker back at you. I mean you’d better be loved and adored by all who come into contact with you. And love and adoration were notably missing from the vast majority of the reviews.

I noted this fact on Veksner’s blog and urged some of the readers who’d praised the campaign to try googling the company themselves. And while there were some who got why this made the Net 10 campaign fairly moot, especially in the midst of the Real Digital Revolution, a number of the ad creatives who read the blog did not.

They took the attitude, expressed by one poster that “Droga 5 are doing THE ADVERTISING, Net 10 do THE PHONE BIT including the service and therefore cannot be responsible for user reviews.”

And that attitude, in a nutshell, is why our industry is in the position it’s in.

We’ve turned ourselves into the contractors. The guys who make the ads. Who cares about the strategy, who cares about the actual product, if the ads are funny and clever and likely to win awards?

And clients get that. They get that in spades.

That’s why they turn to PR agencies like Edelman and strategy shops like Naked and even management consulting firms like Bain and McKinsey to do all the work their agencies should be doing. Because they know that too many agencies can’t even be bothered to use Google to see if the product actually lives up to the brief. Can’t be bothered to realize that for most non packaged-goods items, the consumer pattern is now ad -Google-purchase. Not ad-purchase. (And that “ad” now encompasses a range of things from TV commercials to social media mentions.)

Now the real danger here is that if all you’re doing is making an ad, you don’t need an agency. You need a general contractor.

As for me, I’ll be over at the drafting table with all the architects.

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