Giving traditional ad agencies a bloody nose AND a split lip

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I was going to wait until next week to post this, but in light of last night's lackluster lineup of multi-million dollar ads during the Superbowl (most of which were utter wastes of money), here is perhaps the most biting commentary on the relationship between many traditional ad agencies and the role they think they play in building brands... or in some cases, the role they play in hurting the brands they get paid good money to elevate. (I just had a vision of an elephant stumbling through a china store.)

Mike Myatt, Chief strategy officer at N2 Growth posted this gem last week about ad agencies and their typically failed brand building endeavors.

Note: Mike doesn't say all advertising agencies are this way. He says that many are. And as much as it pains me to say it... he's right. Here's a little something to gently eeeeeeease you into his ever so subtle point:
"I would go so far as to say that many advertising agencies are almost obsolete in their approach such that they add very little value to their client’s brands. In today’s post I’ll share my insights on why most advertising agencies just don’t get it…"

Ahhhh... You know this is going to be good. Now... In case you're already so incensed that you're seeing red and preparing an epic response, remember that Mike is talking about building brands. He isn't suggesting that these certain ad agencies don't get advertising, but rather that in these cases, advertising is really all these agencies actually get. (Though after having seen some of the crap that tried to pass for advertising last night, I have to take my own comment with a big fat grain of salt. Read my previous post to see what I am talking about.) I'll just shut up now and let Mike clarify his point:
"It is the CEOs responsibility to set the brand vision and then to evangelize and champion that vision. I have observed far too many CEOs and entrepreneurs who abdicate their responsibility by just turning over their brand to advertising agencies and hoping for great creative output. The problem lies in that the concept of “branding” has moved far beyond communicating product differences and building “image.” In order to improve brand performance, marketing experts need to consider product re-design, reengineering the supply chain, refining distribution, reducing costs, introducing loyalty rewards for customers and many other variables. While advertising will certainly retain an important role as a component of branding, it is clearly not the driver of branded businesses that it once was.

"Put simply, ad agencies create brand advertising. They don’t create brands…Put even more simply ad agencies create, buy and place media they don’t develop brand architecture and modeling which are used as a blueprint for all activities and communications for the brand. It is rare that you’ll find ad agencies that will even have the diversification of competencies that will allow them to provide strategic brand direction across mediums. While I have rarely observed a lack of willingness by agencies to dive into a project, I have often observed a complete inability to execute.

"Even within their purported areas of domain expertise (media and mediums) the marketplace is littered with agencies who have huge gaps in competencies in PR, direct marketing, blogging and other forms of social media, interactive media, search marketing, word of mouth marketing and any number of other areas. However it is their lack of experience and ability to deliver on brand strategy, business intelligence, knowledge management, innovation, corporate venturing, competitive analysis (and by this I don’t mean whose TV ad is better), intellectual property and other items that make ad agencies the worst possible choice to take brand direction from.

"Okay, let’s call a spade a spade and bring the ad agency agenda out into the light of day. Ad agencies get paid to sell advertising not to build brands…Reflect back upon your last agency pitch and you may have been wowed by creative talent, and yes even a bit of brand-speak, but at the end of the day you were pitched on buying advertising. Ad agencies speak to your advertising budget, not your brand equity."

Read the entire post here.

Many ad agencies think, wish, and in some cases truly believe that they are in the business of building brands... yet few of them actually invest in the development of true brand planning teams (and among those who do, even fewer staff these teams with folks who have actually worked outside of the agency world). Big mistake. Huge, in fact. Most of these agencies don't work with their clients' designers to actually create the products. They don't work with customer service or sales teams to design fantastic customer experience. And worst of all, they never have. They simply aren't equipped to work at that level - nor do they care to be. It just isn't part of the account service/creative team/media buying formula they know and understand.

Sure, go ahead and feel outraged by Mike's post, but... you know, if the truth hurts, I'm sorry. Sometimes, the truth is just a hard, unforgiving kick to the huevos, but that's why it's so powerful. Unless none of this applies to you, you can either take it at face value and change, or bury your head in the sand and pretend that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Your call.

As far as I am concerned... Mike, your website needs a major facelift, but you've kind of hit the nail on the head with this one.

Agencies and firms that are making the transition to full service PSFs or have T-shaped brand planning groups get it. Traditional agencies who stick to their half-century-old model will probably continue to thrive... but will soon find themselves pigeon-holed in a shallow creative service no-man's-land.

Sad but true. Deal with it.

PS: Don't worry, my next post will be much, much.... nicer. Stay tuned. ;)

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