Advertising agencies aren’t paid to become experts on the client’s business, so they become experts on advertising. They don’t have the time or the relationships to go deep on the structure of the market; they aren’t rewarded for challenging the client’s assumptions. They don’t have access to the right people in the client teams for the information they need to make the best recommendations and the best work. They don’t have the budgets to get that information on their own.
“Good” advertising doesn’t have a clear call to action, isn’t direct marketing – it’s lifestyle based, taps into hidden desires or unspoken needs, creates cultural icons or foments generational movements. They fear research as a sure-fire path to killing their creative darlings. They limit their financial exposure by bringing fewer ideas to the table. They defend them fiercely, even at the risk of seeming condescending, because it is the only asset they feel they have.
And because they fear research, and lack the client’s willingness to invest in it, they do not gather data on the efficacy of a campaign, or do not gather the best data, and therefore, do not learn from one campaign how to make the next one better. But then, often, neither does the client.
In the end, relationships falter because of hurt feelings, unmet needs, disappointment, and an erosion of trust. These come from a misalignment of expectations with capabilities.
It’s hard to say for certain who is in the wrong here – are clients asking ad agencies to solve problems they can’t solve? Or have agencies intertwined themselves too tightly with the services they provided as agents, and not the outcomes those services were used to create? In other words were clients buying something agencies didn’t fully realize they were selling? Is what clients want from ad agencies not really advertising, per se, but increased revenue, sales volume, or market share? And in today’s complicated world, is advertising always part of the solution set?
It seems to me the fundamental problem is that advertising agencies have thought, this whole time, that they were in the business of selling access to the development and placement of advertising, while their clients were trying to buy increased sales.
Perhaps clients don’t really need advertising agencies anymore (though they will still need creative production and media placement/negotiation). Maybe they need business-model-seeking agencies that create roadmaps to carry out consumer, product, channel and marketing strategies. Maybe those agencies facilitate the creation of assets that are placed into those channels or campaigns on behalf of their clients. Maybe they are paid to be trusted experts who guide clients through the ever-evolving landscape of their market.
- Farrah Bostic