Paul Simons; why it’s time to abandon this integrated nonsense with a new wave of advertising agencies

I was considering writing a piece on the worst advertising of 2016 rather than submit my list of best campaigns of the year but I decided to leave it as I had no desire to sound like a ‘bah humbug’ misery when it is the season of goodwill to all men (and women).

Well it’s now all over and possibly a good time to reflect as we anticipate 2017 and wonder what’s next; and also the pretence of goodwill has been parked for another year.

In a nutshell I think the ad industry is all over the place and in danger of losing sight of what it is there for.

Why did M&C Saatchi buy Lean Mean Fighting Machine and put them in charge of the London flagship? What was going on in their heads? M&C’s CV is about big advertising ideas, albeit most are getting a bit dated. Was it the new holy grail of ‘it’s all about digital,’ so therefore swap the glamorous wife for a young bit of stuff?

For me it demonstrated a confidence crisis. Within the Plc world of M&C I’m sure a big proportion of the revenues and profits will be derived from non-advertising sources so the leap to converting the ad agency into a different beast was perhaps too easy to conclude. Sadly I think the baby was washed out with the bathwater.

Some people look like they have got this evolution about right such as Engine, adam&eveDDB, Grey and others but the majority are making a right pig’s ear out of the changing times. An ‘integrated agency’ is code for jack of all trades and master of none.

A good example of how all of the above can lead to chronic advertising must be the Nationwide TV campaign. It’s the one with young poets reciting one of their ditties to camera. How this got presented let alone being approved is a miracle. Its ‘construct’ as a piece of commercial communication for a leading building society is just awful. I fear this has come from the muddle and mixing up of brochures and 30 seconds tele. Have the client and its advertising partner never heard of a ‘proposition’?

There isn’t one unless the target audience was people who are poetry obsessives so would apply to this nice building society for a loan only to be told they don’t earn enough to get a mortgage. There is a line in the last seconds of the TV work that says they lend money to lots of people. No shit Sherlock, I would never have guessed.

A further crime of the new century must be the squandering of squillions of pounds by M&S by running glossy TV advertising that has little to do with their retail emporiums. Other contributors to MAA as well as me have consistently flagged the obvious disconnect between the two. How can a group of well paid, intelligent people at M&S believe the advertising is a good reflection of their brand, their products, the customers and their retail shops. They are not what was being portrayed in the advertising. The notion of adding some “Magic & Sparkle” to Christmas has been an embarrassment.

The CEO stood down, a new broom was promoted from within, stores close, clothing is radically cut back, more food investment, no more glossy advertising (BTW the food TV work is rated by the MAA team and interestingly has been consistent for some time now).

My final example is the disappointing impact some of the most progressive names in the US have made on the UK. My ex-partner Carl Johnson has pulled off some big moves in the US and around the world but the UK remains a bit of an anomaly for Anomaly. Droga5 is another with huge promise and still little impact after several years trying. Over the years US agencies have found the UK a difficult place to succeed. Wieden+Kennedy struggled for years until Amy Smith went in as MD to be followed by Neil Christie when Amy returned home to Oz.

So we still rely on home-grown start-ups to stir the pot and get some fizz back in to adland. My vote is for a few more good quality start-ups who nail their colours firmly to the advertising mast. There is declining competition and I predict a return to big advertising ideas as seen on traditional media channels. Get in there!

One Comment

  1. I in part agree with what this piece is about, and I am not in advertising so maybe I am the wrong person to truly understand this. But as an outsider of the ad industry, but one who has been in branding for over 30 years, I do feel that for me there has been a great move away from traditional adverting and more into ‘connecting’ to people, it’s not about selling widgets and digits, it’s about making people connect with you as an organisation. With that it mind, for me the Nationwide ads really did this – it connected, it didn’t make over inflated promises, it didn’t try to ram anything down my throat, and I actually enjoyed the break from commercial ad, to poetic story telling – refreshing for me.

    I feel that there are some amazing ads going on these days, and we have moved away from the predictable media buying slot fillers, to little pieces that engage, and I am happy to turn my head back towards and actually think about. For me personally, the ad is about the everyday people, the friend, the good person, and it sophisticatedly connects me through a traditional medium that reminds me of the power of words coming from ‘the people’.

    I think that there are new and fresh thinking generations who have been mentally turning off to ads that constantly try to sell and they are gagging for ads that share and connect, the sale can come later. The proposition for the Nationwide ad for me was around ‘connecting to people through the world that they respect and trust’. So if an ad sells nothing but it gets people to connect, then they are more likely to trust, and isn’t that what building societies need to get back to?

    Anyway, as I say, I am not in advertising, but no reason why I can’t have a view I suppose.

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