The advertising agency business has been in one bind or another ever since the dawn of digital. Digital shook the industry to its core, and the reverberations are still being felt from top to bottom. The list of problems is long, but one problem we don’t spend enough time discussing is the problem of not knowing who or what we are, any longer. It’s a confusion that I find perplexing.
May I point you to an excerpt from Bob Hoffman’s new book, Advertising For Skeptics?
In most fields of endeavor progress is achieved by the accretion of knowledge over time…Advertising is different. We respect no history. We observe no principles. We have no connective tissue…A field of endeavor without principles is not a discipline — it’s a free-for-all.
We used to believe that creativity was the essence of successful advertising. No longer. We used to believe that big ideas were the backbone of outstanding advertising. No more. We used to believe that an agency’s primary job was the delivery of outstanding ads to its clients. Not today.
What do we believe in now? Likeonomics, engagement, conversations, storytelling, empowerment and brand purpose? These aren’t principles. These are the dreadful clichés of a tired industry.
Bob slaps back like no one else, and he has a lot of people listening to his criticisms. People all over the English-speaking world invite Bob to speak at events, on camera, and pretty much wherever the Adverati gather. From a distance, it appears that the people in the audience are receptive to Bob’s messages. The disconnect must occur after the messages are received and it’s back to the grind.
To Complicate Matters, AI Is “An Existential Threat”
Bob does not blast artificial intelligence to the moon and back. Thankfully, others are doing that duty.
For one, Ernie Schenck ain’t having it:
Creativity isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s bedrock. It’s the reason for our existence. You can’t soft pedal on it. You cannot put it at the back of the closet until times are better. We set creativity adrift at our peril. If there’s an existential threat, this is it. We tell ourselves this is the age of creativity. We tell ourselves that. But is that just another bandwagon for us to jump on like purpose and AI? More than ever, we need to embrace creativity. Aggressively.
Fundamentals. They’ve been missing for much too long a time.
If the industry’s fundamentals were in place, well taken care of, and shared with the people entering the field today, we’d see less hype and concern over AI. We’d take note of it and assess what it can and can’t do and get back to work inventing magnetic brand stories that pull people into the brand’s world. Provided our client partners fully grasp the agency’s role and consistently clear the way for big ideas.
What Do Clients Really Want?
With AI in play or with no AI, many clients are not seeking magnetic brand stories that pull people into the brand’s world. Some of them can be shown the light, while others will run from its intensity.
Reversion to the mean is all corporations have ever wanted. https://t.co/oFs3cWXxa3
— Jason Patterson (@content_grinder) May 8, 2023
My friend from Twitter makes a great point. If clients had higher standards for the work their agencies produced, there would be a lot of great work in the marketplace. Instead, the bar is ankle high—a fact that helps paint any person who is advocating for better solutions as someone with an agenda (that’s different and more ambitious than the client’s).
When you want more for the client than they want for themselves, it’s not a pleasant place to be. When you want more for your team, your agency, and yourself, it’s also not a great situation. It’s not great, because it takes a highly functional team to make great advertising, and a team grounded in the fundamentals of the business.
Fundamentally, agency people are hired to make a client’s products or services even more attractive to potential buyers. To deliver on this promise, creative people can work with machines, but there are no shortcuts to customer insights, which are needed to inform the kind of creative product that will get people to notice and eventually buy.