advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Brands vs. franchisees, aka, kids vs. parents.

“They hire marketing guys with blue blazers who tell us what to do with our damn stores. But it's one thing to be behind the big mahogany desk calling the shots and another to be down here in the trenches.”

Just who controls the shots. The brand? The franchisee? Both? Automotive. Fast Food. Name any industry with a dealer network or franchisees and you find a disconnect between what the owner at the street level thinks will sell and the advertising corporate tells them they’re running that year. That quote by the way was from KFC franchise owner Marilynn Pankratz about the current lawsuit by KFC franchisees against the home office.

Whether she really has an issue with the brand itself and not its ad agencies is not clear. Her story about the time the original colonel himself came in and gave a live demonstration highlights the difference between brands and their agencies. Would an agency want the CEO to do some kind of stunt? Sure. Among other ideas.

But when a brand has such a myopic focus on what they think will work, nothing the agency says matters. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, if the brand says we’re pushing double chicken sandwiches, guess what your ad is going to be about.

It’s understandable. Companies have lived with their own product(s) for far longer than the typical agency relationship, so who better to understand what makes it tick. Look no further than Apple to see what a singular vision can create. But every brand ain’t Apple, and every CEO ain’t Jobs.

I don’t care how many marketing directors in Ad Age say they worked hand in hand with the agency, brands still have a hard time relinquishing control of their messaging to agencies. More often than not, they’ll tell them the direction they want to head in, but turn over the keys? Nope. To which I always respond, why the hell did you hire the agency then if you’re not going to let them do what they do best?

Franchisees still make sales happen—or not—at the street level. Sure W+K may instill a fuck-yeah America spirit in people hungry for a little American muscle cartopia, but that vision is soon erased as you walk through the showroom doors into shark-infested waters, complete with obnoxious price spots and even more obnoxious salespeople.

Hello disconnect between brand and dealer while the customer is the one ultimately stuck in the middle between perception and reality.

But I can’t take neg brands without also giving a shot to franchises for their equally myopic vision. Too often, owners are guilty of the same things, thinking they know what’s best for their own store, but forgetting that they’re part of a larger brand. Individual owners will ALWAYS want their own ad budgets.

For years, distributors I worked with on brands like Smirnoff or Jose Cuervo routinely disregarded much of the in-store displays the brands spent a fortune on, preferring instead to run their own localized promotions. The results though don’t necessarily produce a unified look to the overall brand, to say the least.

Agencies for their part will still do what brands tell them simply because a lot of money is on the line. They produce an overall generic vibe for a brand to drive people to the stores. Not that the brand would let them, but it’s just not practical for one agency to work with individual stores on a national level. The best they do in this regard is to produce a series of general market spots that franchisees with decent budgets can customize on their own.

What’s the answer? I’m not sure.

This is a brand > franchise problem, not an agency one, even though agencies will take the heat when owners rise up and bitch about the advertising. (Hello Wendy’s.) Franchisees focus on profits, not creativity. Unfortunately for creatives, this mindset produces generic messaging that could be for any brand. Aren’t all meals served “hot and fresh” with “refreshing, ice-cold” drinks?

Speaking of refreshing, I wonder how the Colonel would look in a blue blazer.


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