In his Nov. 6 Ad Age column, “Why Ad Agencies Aren’t Going Away Anytime Soon,” Al Ries contends that the type of thinking found inside ad agencies is the only hope clients have of keeping their lofty, buzzword laden “boardroom-created strategies” out of their marketing and alienating (or worse, boring) their customers.
This has become a distressing trend, right down to the mom-and-pop level. My armchair analysis follows.
Jus as YouTube has turned everyone into a director, and WordPress has turned everyone into a literary giant, two indisputable facts are leading companies to believe that they can create and distribute all their own marketing without any outside assistance:
- Social media is everywhere
- Social media is cheap, if not free
Now, this isn’t another whiny “you get what you pay for” observation about how chaining your intern in front of a laptop and giving them free reign on Facebook does not constitute a marketing plan. (Even though it doesn’t)
I say go ahead, use every social media platform that’s out there, and try every new one that comes along. It’s not the distribution channels that bother me, it’s the messages companies are putting there—and the importance they’re placing on those channels at the expense of those messages.
Here’s a primitive analogy. Pretend that all other media in the country has been outlawed save one: megaphones. So all advertisers are forced to spread the word about their products by hiring some guy to stand on the street and yell about it.
Since all other companies are using the same guy, how can one make the best use of him? By paying him to shout about nothing but your product all day, in his own words, and literally drown out the competition? Or by providing him with a compelling, relevant and engaging message that he shouts but once a day?
My money’s on B. Because B is built around a solid idea.
These days, the media clutter is inescapable, especially when most of us expose ourselves to it by choice. It’s not enough just “being there” in someone’s face. You need to be there with something to say.
Companies like mine—whether you call them “ad agencies,” “marketing firms,” “content creators” or “brand consultants”—do one thing companies can’t do themselves: stand on the outside and look in. A client knows exactly what it wants to say about its product. Whether it will resonate with its customers is a different story—and an increasingly irrelevant one.
Agencies (good ones, anyway) are built to represent the customer, and speak to them in their language. Clients may try, but they will always lack the necessary objectivity to pull this off. And without a good agency or outside group, a client can fall victim to Ivory Tower Syndrome, compounded by Yes Men-itis. They are proud of their efforts, they want their efforts to be good and therefore delude themselves into thinking just that, with no one to tell them otherwise.
Google has not helped matters by making nearly every form of online advertising D.I.Y., with tutorials, free phone assistance and attractive rates you can set yourself (pay per click, etc.). What Google does NOT help with is your message. And in the scramble to cut corners and get something—anything—out there and visible to customers, the idea gets left in the dust.
I’m not suggesting every idea an ad agency has is gold, or that every idea a client has is worthless, but just because the media landscape has changed doesn’t mean the agency-client partnership model is obsolete, or that ideas matter less.
I would argue that they’ve never been more important.