George Parker: why the agency of the future sucks

Unknown-14For those of you with the moral fortitude and infinite patience (possibly with the help of a few drinks) to have stayed with me this long, we are nearly at the end of the journey. This is part one of the final chapter of Confessions of a Mad Man, the absolutely final-final bit will be next week… And if you are totally fucking insane, you can buy the whole thing as an eBook on Amazon for the price of a pint… Anyway, here we go on the home stretch…

I try and end each of my books about the world’s second oldest profession with some kind of half-hearted projection of where we might, or might not be, in a few years time. Obviously, this is an exercise in futility, as not a single one of the grotesquely overpaid, and supremely ignorant executives of the various BDAs, BDHCs and BDCs currently sucking on the teat of corporate America, even have a clue as to where they will be eating their two hundred dollar lunch tomorrow… Unless it’s a Tuesday, then it will definitely be the Four Seasons. On the other hand, if it’s a pre-fucking off to the Hamptons Friday, it could possibly be an all guy, macho, big cigar fuelled platinum card melt down at Smith & Wollensky’s.

One of the most pathetic aspects of your average BDA is how unoriginal the thinking of most of the senior management who work in them is. This in spite of their claim that they are dedicated to the creation of truly effective work on their client’s behalf through the implementation of unique methodologies, executed via the skills, insights and talents of their world class staff.

A visit to half a dozen BDA web sites will quickly make your eyes glaze over as you read about their Global Capabilities – 360 Degree Branding – Media Agnosticism – Total Immersion Maceration – Dynamic DataMetrics – Integrated Communications Services – The Pursuit of Professional Excellence – Single Point Contact and Accountability – The Creation and Maintenance of Brand Value – A Resistance to the Usual – Balancing Left Brain, Right Brain… And so on and so on.

In addition, many will claim to be much more than mere ad agencies. Now, they have seemingly transmogrified into Anthropologists – Psychiatrists – Necromancers – Masters of Feng Shui -Aggressive Attitudinal Amplifiers, and by next week something else equally exotic that merely enables them to continue disseminating bullshit to their increasingly suspicious clients.

Over the years, the nomenclature used by agencies to describe all these miraculous offerings has changed with the advent of new technologies, methods of content distribution, and Einstein-like mathematical measurement tools which allow agencies to demonstrate to clients that the million friends they gathered on Facebook for their new brand of hemorrhoid cream would soon replace Justin Bieber as the next big thing for twelve year old girls.

Fortunately for the agencies, while these new tools allow them to gather ever larger and more impressive measurements of impressions, they rarely, if ever give any hard information about how these impressions have translated into sales. Which, in spite of David Ogilvy’s long held conviction that advertising is about selling, merely reinforces my opinion that the vast majority of BDAs are convinced that advertising is about branding, because when you talk about branding, rather than selling, it’s hard to pin down exactly what all that money they are pissing away on your behalf is actually doing.

Unknown-5Ever since Nero attempted to create the first “Agency of the Future” by breaking down the walls and blowing up the silos of Ancient Rome, numerous other adverati lunatics have repeatedly attempted the same thing with unsurprisingly similar results.

In common with Nero’s efforts, most “Agencies of the Future” quickly become agencies of the past, or, more often than not, degenerate into carbon copies of the agencies they were supposed to replace. Thereby proving that the vast majority of people in advertising, not only inhabit some kind of fucked up parallel universe that has little or no connection to reality, but are forever destined to repeat the mistakes everyone preceding them has committed, in the belief they have not only come up with something new, but actually believe, that in common with Nero… They have cracked the holy grail of the Big Dumb Agency universe.

How to continue ripping off the marketing geniuses of corporate America to the tune of zillions… And never get found out until long after they have cashed in their humungous golden parachutes and gone off to the Belle Air retirement home for Agency charlatans. Unfortunately, life is no longer like that, as clients are increasingly asking for more accountability, at substantially lower cost than they paid in the past.

OK… Enough of showing off my mastery of ancient advertising history, let’s fast forward to the present day. (Possibly, after a suitable cocktail break!) A few short years ago, WPP, the Poisoned Dwarf’s empire, pulled off what was billed at the time by the various brain damaged ad trades that never stop pontificating on our business, as the master stroke of the century by creating an agency that would be solely dedicated to the needs of a single, very large, very rich, global client. Dell Computer.

Established in 2008, this agency, luxuriating under the uxorious name of Enfatico, was hailed by the advertising trade press as a revolutionary new concept pulled off by the newly knighted genius of the ad biz, Sir Martin Sorrell. In reality, it was nothing of the sort. The idea of an agency totally dedicated to a single client was by no means revolutionary; it’s been around for donkeys years. Previously, they were usually known as “in-house” shops, see Chapter Six, Two Douchenozzles & a Prince, and are famous for one thing above anything else; the production of really, really shitty work. And, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Firstly, no creative person in their right mind wants to work on just one account, particularly when it is more often than not, a shitty account. Secondly, if you only have one client, the last thing you want to do is piss them off and lose your job. So, you bend over and grab your ankles every time the ego driven client decides every ad has to contain his picture, or his idiot daughter has to do all the photography, because since she was a kid, she’s taken great pictures of the family dog. Oh, and by the way, can we include a picture of the family dog?

Hey, don’t laugh; I’ve heard that before, and many variations of it.

Actually, the granddaddy of totally dedicated shops is Lintas, which began in London in 1899 as an in-house agency for Lever Brothers, a British soap company. Then when Lever Brothers developed into the Anglo-Dutch giant, Unilever, Lintas gained a massive client that would fuel its growth for the rest of the century. With the rock solid foundation of its mainstay Unilever account, and a policy of hiring talented people, Lintas then went on to win numerous other prestigious accounts from multinational clients including Diet Coke, MasterCard, and IBM.

Everything went swimmingly from then on, until 1982, when Interpublic, by far the dumbest of the Big Dumb Holding Company’s swallowed up SSC&B: Lintas, as it had now become, thanks to multiple ill considered and invariably stupid mergers. From then on, primarily because of Interpublic’s financially focused and inept management, it has all been one long trip downhill.

Unknown-7Even the merger in the eighties, with “hot” Brit agency Lowe Howard-Spink didn’t help. To the point where Sir Frank Lowe (left) finally “pulled up stumps” and went back to getting pissed out of his mind while sipping “champers” from his teacup on the terrace at Lords. Needless to say, in common with all the other BDA high rollers, and with the help of his team of Alien fanged lawyers, Sir Frank didn’t walk with empty pockets. Even better, when he waited out his two year non-compete clause, he started a brand new agency and ripped off his old agency’s biggest account.

Talk about shades of Saatchi and Saatchi, who did the very same thing a few years earlier when the shareholders finally got pissed off with Charlie’s penchant for blowing millions of the agency’s loot on dead sharks floating in tanks of formaldehyde, while Maurice was satisfied with castles and “Rollers.” It must be a cockney wanker thing.

In the years since Lintas was founded, many others have jumped on the bandwagon of creating a totally dedicated agency that would concentrate solely on the service of a single client on a global scale. Virtually all have failed; most of them disastrously, yet this doesn’t seem to have tempered the appetite for BDAs, and BDHCs to continue trying.

Update: Since this was written BDHC ”teams” have proliferated, primarily for car accounts, which have proven over the years that the creative input required is minimal, whilst the account management skills have boiled down to the usual drinks, golf, tickets for the Knicks, whatever.

As dear old Yogi once said so memorably… “It’s dejavue all over again!”

So why not stick around for the absolutely final episode of the world’s greatest book on advertising (He said modestly!) Do not attempt to adjust the wavelength on your superhetrodyne Moreboutadvertising receiver. The last thing you want to do is piss off Stephen.

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