Every client wants a good ad agency (meaning one that creates effective advertising and doesn’t pad their invoices). And some agencies try to oblige. But as Scott G points out, many ad shops seem to be working from a slightly different perspective, one that is counter-productive at best and destructive of brand equity at worst.

“Ad agencies pretend to be scientific and fail” is how I’ve heard marketing executives describe them. True in some cases, I suppose, although this statement overlooks the fact that clients sometimes serve their agencies poorly (see companion article, “Bad Client Syndrome”).

Still, there are ad agency policies and procedures which lead to campaigns that are repulsive, pushy, infuriating, undignified, and worst of all, ineffective. Here are a few of those misguided methods.

Invent a Magic Formula
Everyone in marketing knows there is no secret potion for creating a great ad campaign. It comes from hard work: You gather as much information as you can about the product and the target audience, then come up with a million approaches until you find one that affects the head, heart and wallet of your intended consumers.

Despite knowing this, some agencies insist on spinning their wheels with “proprietary methodology process development metrics” or some such. These things have many names, some silly, some clever, yet all are virtually guaranteed to attract clients who are deluded or dimwitted. Plus, this approach drives creative people right up the wall.

The Back-room Deal
Some agencies find it difficult to create effective advertising, so they keep the client happy through a curious form of bribery. I believe there is a Noel Coward song that deals with this subject (although not specifically targeting ad agencies). The lyric goes “offer him girls, offer him boys.” But that doesn’t happen anymore, does it? Oh. Really? Well, that would explain a lot of current ad campaigns.

Rely on Focus Groups
“But the campaign tested so well in focus groups.” You hear that lament far too often. The problem isn’t with focus groups themselves but in how they’re conducted and how the data is interpreted.

If you allow focus group members to ramble on about their likes and dislikes, two things will happen. First, you’ll be appalled. But second, you won’t get the true story about your ads. Remember, most focus group participants will tell you “I don’t watch much television, except for National Geographic specials and the Nutcracker ballet at Christmas.” Sure.

Yes, But…
Don’t ever stray from the middle of the road. Ask your creative department for “exciting ideas” and then kill them before they ever get to the client. Headlines I’ve seen eviscerated prior to client presentation have included the following (actual ad agency dialogue included for maximum squirm factor.)

Help win the war on cancer. (“The word ‘war’ is going a little far, don’t you think?”)

Join us in the Imagine Nation. (“Well, we get the pun, but will the audience?”)

Go to health! (“The hospital Board would be uncomfortable with this.”)

Ready for a deep, meaningful experience? (For the introduction of a deep dish pizza.) (“The client’s wife felt it was too suggestive.”)

By the way, the idiotic pizza company went with this line: “It’s deep, it’s delicious, try it.” Glad they avoided something suggestive.

All That Glitters
The pursuit of awards drives some agencies into a tizzy. “I don’t care what the client needs, this can be a One Show winner.” Yup, that’s also an actual line of agency-speak. Makes me shudder.

Don’t get me wrong, I like awards. But there are far more important things to consider, including building a brand and increasing audience knowledge of your product benefits. Olympia Beer campaigns always won awards but apparently didn’t sell suds. Anybody think of some other examples?

[tags]G-Man, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants, advertising agency, brand equity[/tags]