advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Your agency sucks.

“No one knows the product better than the folks who made it.”

That’s entertainment software brand Valve’s VP of marketing Doug Lombardi on the value of ad agencies. It wasn’t their recently completed in-house spot above that got my attention but that statement, because it’s completely wrong – and completely right. He goes on to say that

“We’ve had many creative kick-off meetings with agencies over the years, and you’d be shocked by the treatments that have come back. Copycat treatments. Cliché treatments. Treatments that reveal the agency wasn’t listening in the initial meeting.”

I can’t argue with that because I’ve been there and seen that kind of stuff, and have said that there’s no way an agency can know a client’s brand the way the client does. They live with it 24/7 and agency staff don’t. Bad pitches also come with the territory and can be attributed to a few things.

Maybe it was a creative team who had less than two weeks to throw an RFP together for a brand category they never worked on before – and only started working on it in the second week. Or the agency was more concerned with the overall client spend than the coolness of the creative.

Brands share the blame too though.

A lot of great ideas have been completely dismissed out of hand by clients, all because they couldn’t let loose the chokehold they had on their brand’s marketing goals. When things derail creatively, it’s often because the client demanded specific tactics in the execution that were at odds with the goals they originally outlined.

Give the agency the goal and let them figure out how to get there.

The point of the article though is that Valve tried that and got a 404. Again, could be any number of things, and they’re free to do what they want with their creative work. But this is also a case for why agencies matter. Brands who believe they know their product  better than anyone are often too close to the situation to make the decisions needed for a successful campaign.

They can’t separate how it’s made from how it should be marketed. It’s because of this that they hate turning over control of any aspect of it to any agency partner outsider.

Valve is probably ecstatic over the final ad they got because, well, it’s exactly what they wanted. Here’s where another dynamic of the goal theory comes into it again though, because brands shouldn’t always get what they want, but what they need. If that means telling them their goals are wrong, tell them.

Is this an amazing ad? Who’s to say. Yes, opinions are like blogs – everyone has one – but based on the type of gaming spots I’ve run here, this is sufficiently generic and safe. It shows you what the game does and what the plot is about, and it has a playful attitude that appeals to family play.

Nothing wrong with that of course, but it also feels like it lacks the emotion I’ve seen in others. This checks off the game’s features, but by contrast, look at what Playstation has been able to do with the Kevin Butler campaign.

Knowing your product doesn’t guarantee that you know how to sell it. It’s often easier for an agency to learn about a brand than it is for a brand to learn how to market itself. Very few agencies or brands have it all figured out. The majority of both are dysfunctional entities that need each other.



Everyman* (There's always a Disclaimer) said...

If this was a 'trending' topic, it could send agencies into high alert and get union to ensure they're are not outsourced. by going in-house.

and really - what's the difference if a company creates an in-house agency filled with employees that (almost) all have agency backgrounds. They could operated like (old school) journalists where their advertisers did not and could not influence their words.

And really - we have all seen the whore side of agencies - doing anything to make their client happy.

Another thing - there are agencies that are FLEECING their clients with costs that are padded and just-for-profit.

Hey - I don't want to put anyone out of business but ad agencies are not always the experts.

caff said...

Lots of things that are true--both sides get a piece of the blame.

And one thing that I've seen a lot is that brands/companies are sometimes too close to the product as well, and they get caught up in talking to themselves and not the customer. Which is where the agency comes in to play. And even in-house agencies can get caught up in the talking to themselves or to their internal teams, vs. talking to those they are trying to get to buy their product.

Dragos Ilinca said...

Well maybe it's better this way. Once they see what really goes into making this sort of ad, how much work and research is required, they'll start to respect quality agency work more.

I've always felt that until you try to do something yourself to see what it entails, you won't really appreciate or respect good work in that field.

- Dragos, CMO @ uberVU