Get your tanks off our lawn

I’m enlisting good women and men ‘husky’ or not for the big push, the ulitmate scrap, the conflict to end all conflicts. As we know the run-in with the management consultancies was a mere skirmish, the real deal is the mother of all battles brewing between the ad agencies and the brand consultancies.
They want our lunch and they are no bloody good at it – handy with a logo but when it comes to business changing ideas they are woolley thinkers every man jack of them and slow and expensive into the bargain. Here is my opening salvo – a letter that appeared in Campaign this week.

Dear Editor
Brand consultancies may believe that they are “creating a broader strategic idea for the company; one that is capable of driving the business forward” (Campaign, 4 August) but if that is what you really want I suggest you are more likely to get it from an advertising agency.
The World’s Favourite Airline, The 4th Emergency Service, It’s Good To Talk, Every Little Helps, The Power of Dreams and Try Something New Today, hardly seem to me to be the “shortlived campaigns” that Cheryl Giovannoni accuses us of creating.
All of these ideas came out of classic ad agency pitches which combine broad strategic thinking with tangible creative expression that real people will see and understand. Not only that but the process is both very cheap (often free) and very fast (a matter of weeks).
Why pay a brand consultancy through the nose and then hang around for months waiting for their pearls of undifferentiating wisdom when the great brand building ideas come from advertising agencies?
Richard Huntington
Planning Director
United London

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27 Replies to “Get your tanks off our lawn”

  1. Nice.
    I think the issue is that (as a general summary) ad people get branding, while branding people dont appear to get advertising.
    Ad agencies are trying to communicate directly with the customer on a brand’s behalf. If they don’t know how to build the brand and create long term strategic thinking you simply arent going to get good ads.

  2. … The Economist “red” identity. Tango’s extreme positioning (YNWYBT onwards). Even Cillit Bang’s overbearing cheesy spokesman idea got it launched into a crowded marketplace with a “bang” (sorry). Audi’s Vorsprung Durch Technik…

  3. Sorry to triple post, but:
    One advantage of ad agencies and strategic ideas is that they have the creative output to be able to physically demonstrate what the brand planning and strategy looks like. What better tool is there in helping a company to understand a strategy than to show them directly.

  4. But there are other ways to communicate a brand aside from advertising and there other ways to bring a brand to life without the need for explicit and direct communications.
    Maybe if ad agencies weren’t so one dimensional, more businesses would have the faith in us to turn their ‘logos’ into a fiscal asset.

  5. Of course.
    One of the reasons that brand consultancies (to me anyway) have flourished is because they capitalised on the slow agencies that didnt (or still havent) discover that extra dimension or two.
    Some of those great brand ideas that came from agencies were never used to their full potential because of that 1d nature; but that doesnt mean that they werent probably better ideas/strategies than a brand consultancy would have come up with.
    And as Richard says, most of the time the agencies do all the work without hardly being paid anything (until they win); which is more than can be said…

  6. I’ve found the polarising nature of this feud a) a bit depressing b) naively theoretical. This post is mischievously neither, with its big wooden spoon in hand. But still I’m reluctant to be partisan, and I’m afraid I can’t respond to it in kind.
    I’m a huge fan of interesting long term campaign thinking. And yes, I do find it unrealistic when this is divorced from its execution (whatever that may be). Intellectual ivory towers are no good to anyone. But then again neither are theoretical shots at other interesting thinkers. It sucks of party politics to me. Perhaps even insecurity, on both sides. I hate to be a hippy about the whole thing, but I can’t help thinking it’s particularly unfortunate that comms has its own Berlin Wall, and that all these great thinkers and thinking-executers have ended up fighting over lunches.
    I’ve met incredible people on both sides. The problem seems to be not so much them, but the industry struggling to shake its old shackles off and become the sleek new all-thinking all-executing beast it needs to be. If clients demanded upstream and downstream in one place, instead of getting sucked into / perpetuating this feud like so many scraps over pocket money, perhaps things would change. Even better, we do the innovating and evolve the kind of outifts that are best of all worlds for the client. Innovating’s supposed to be what we do after all.

  7. I have had experience after experience after experience of brand consultancies.
    They are good at what they do. Addressing the permanent manifestations of the brand that largely stem from identity.
    But I find them profoundly un-commercial.
    And if you have EVER had to work with one of their brand strategies you will know that they tend to lack any real traction – much like the attempts at strategy that the management consultants used to peddle.
    My all time favourite and probably one of the key reasons that Tango lost its lustre as a brand was the work New Solutions did to re-position Tango in 1998 around ‘mischievous fun’. All personality and no persuasion. That brand was about intense taste under-pinned by the juice of the whole fruit not ‘mischief’. Idiots.
    That is what I mean by a lack of commercialism. I don’t doubt that there are clever peopl in brand cosultancies but any objective measure of the most sucessful brand ideas leads you to ad agencies who understand the problem, how to frame a solution and what is required to make the most of slim marketing budgets.

  8. I believe that advertising and design can work in perfect harmony, that they are perfect bedfellows, that deep down they really, really fancy the pants off each other, but it’s the love that dare not speak its name. Come on Richard, you’ve been flirting with design for years.
    Designers create things of beauty. They create great aesthetics. They may be a tad on the inward looking side sometimes with all that kerning, but even the public recognises the value of a ‘designer’ object, and they respect the designer’s craft.
    Advertisers on the other hand according to public perception are stuck in the 1980s right? Ponytails and party favours surround those in the devil’s craft. Ad folk are superficial, objectionable characters that think the sun shines out of their plasma screens. There’s no way these two polar opposites would ever admit to any kind of attraction.
    Come on, Advertising has had the horn for Design for years. While this may as yet be an unrequited love, design has long been the damp dream of advertisers. As a business, design often creates relationships with big brands first. Design has all that kudos and respect. Design creates things of permanence that you can hold in your hand, strategies are hard to get to grips with at the best of times.
    There’s a fair amount of talk about the ‘blurring line’. That ‘aesthetics fade, while ideas endure’, that ‘the two ways are now one’, and that it’s all about ‘visual communication’ now. But few companies seem to be embracing the opportunity of knocking down the flimsy fence between the two camps. Why is this?
    Clients quickly tire with the anal over-specialisation of the design industry, and the piles of poo that comes with travelling to Planet Advertising. But most of all, they cannot stand (or increasingly afford) the complexity that both ad agencies and design groups overblown processes add to simple projects.
    As creative people, we are nothing but a product of our experiences, so why are the processes developed by many creative groups limiting the creators experiences and ultimately the creative and business opportunities. Lets get together! The grass isn’t much greener on the other side, but it could be more fun if we shared the lawn than cut it down the middle with the Berlin wall mentioned earlier in this blog.
    If we are all ‘visual communicators’ now, why should a designer stop when it comes to communicating the brands’ messages, the brands’ offers, the brands’ advertising? Equally, the insiration for the visual aesthetic, or ‘logo’ as you put it Mr. Huntington, could come from the Ad agency. If we stopped sniping, perhaps we could get on and do some amazing work.
    Good old Russell said, ‘It’s tempting to say what we see through a microscope is more real’, after all, magnification allows for clarification. This ‘microscope’, Advertising believes, involves all manner of chemistry meetings, strategic thinking, brainstorms and heaven knows what other clap trap. The process, the Ad agencies believe, allows the client to see through the microscope of thorough investigation, adding integrity and worth to a creative solution (that they inevitably can sell up to the real decision makers)
    But if we cannot trust what we see with the naked eye, why should we trust what we see through the microscope? Surely these processes ignore and suppress one, enormously powerful emotion. ‘That tingle’. That feeling a client, a designer, a planner, a child feels when they see something, smile, and say ‘I love it’.
    Surely it’s time for ad agencies and design groups to rethink their processes and to extend their reach to full brand communication. Advertising’s spend has been, and continues to be, hit hard – and design’s dollar is being pinched now. Small groups are beating large ones, and redundancies are rife.
    It’s clearly time for change, time to combine forces. Think of it this way, if we worked together, if – as in Ghostbusters – we ‘crossed the streams’, imagine how much more powerful our work could be.

  9. Thankyou Simon, brilliant comment.
    I love design, I respect design and I admire what great design has done for many businesses – it rescued Apple and it created Dyson.
    I think the confusion is over the term ‘Brand Consultancies’. I understand the terms ‘design consultancy’ and ‘advertising agency’ and I think they work really well together. Design consultancies manage the permanent manifestations for the brand (like identity) and ad agencies the harder edged commercial strategy and communications. It is the brand consultancies that I don’t get and question the role of – particularly when it comes to genreating compelling and commerical ‘ideas’.

  10. To be fair, a product that was much better than anything the competition could ever offer was the main reason for the success of Dyson. But for sure the design was a big big part in getting the brand across.
    Good design can communicate just as effectively as any advert. Do you think the apple brand would be considered as creative and fondly if it wasnt for the cheeky and witty bite mark?
    The Nike swoosh even allowed the brand to communicate its entire brand message without even needing the company name.
    Just a shame that Coca Cola didnt treat their Coke Zero advertising agency with the same trust and freedom as their design agency.

  11. Great discussion! As Simon says, it’s about embracing full brand communication … and partly what the ad agencies bring to the table is not just ideation, but also execution. In turning ideas into action that deliver on a strategic or tactical need, the agencies win … but there is always plenty to learn on both sides of the fences. Perhaps this is more about the metrics — how are each measured and why are they not the same?

  12. When I talk about the role of design in the success of Apple and Dyson I was talking about proper design i.e. designing better products not getting jiggy with the crayola crayons.
    Interesting point about relative levels of trust exhibited by Coke over Zero. As we have discussed its got great packaging and type but poor advertising.

  13. Not sure if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick (quite likely) but it seems that Richard’s mention of ‘handy with a logo’ has led everyone down a red herring path of design v advertising. Which is a- whole -nother discussion. Sort of.
    It’s quite fashionable for agency folk to like design folk at the moment – there tends to be a deserved respect there for a highly creative, highly skilled job that at its best makes products that agencies would die to communicate. Often in practise things are a little different. When you work for a client who sets both their design agency and their ad agency off at the same time on 2 parallel tracks, like greyhounds after different rabbits and just crosses his/her fingers that the strategies magically end up coinciding in one big love in…well, it spells trouble. And often total incoherence. I suspect this may have happened with Coke.
    I bring this up, because brand consultancy is often a lot closer to design strategy than is advertising strategy. (Sorry. Not finished my coffee yet). And my point is, by jove, let’s get them all together. We will always scrap if our strategy is shared, and compromised, and diluted in this way. And the only way of avoiding this is to work together. An agency that’s truly full service (brand consultant, designers, creatives, cross media strategists) would clean up, I’m thinking.

  14. can the Coke Zero work be debated under Advocate since a lot of peole are using this as an example of bad advertising at the moment. Fine, except I hear lots of people talking about this product..
    Interested to find out if it has worked.
    Rebecca N – agree with your sentiments exactly Re: a true full service….they are all disciplines which have a role at a certain time and should/could be used hand in hand with each other.
    We are all communication experts with a slightly different view-point. Surely this can only benefit the client.

  15. I think you are right about the truly full service agency Rebecca.
    I know what you mean about product design, but the product/packaging/branding design are all a big part of that. Dyson designed his products to look good, and that emphasized just how good they were. They stood out a mile.
    The thing agencies seem to forget is that branding advertising and design all have the same job; to communicate the company to the public. So why is it that so many people treat them as if they have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.
    As you say Rebecca, its parrallel tracks; so why are they left to run away by themselves instead of mutually guiding each other in the rigfht direction?
    The Coke Zero work has got people talking about the brand, but not in the way that they have tried to achieve. The image they have tried to create hasn’t worked on the ad side. I think the deisgn has probably been 10 times more effective in that respect.

  16. Lets get this conversation marshalled a little more. I am guilty or going for the quick gag over accurate communication. The debate is (as Robin Wright and the leader in Marketing today both discuss) whether brand strategy is the preserve of the brand consultancy (up stream brand consultants like Interbrand) or the advertising agency. The two positions appear to be:
    On the one hand only the brand consultancy now has the requisite skills and relationships to shape brand strategy in todays business environment.
    The great business building brand ideas come from ad agencies (Robin mentions of course 118 118 whose success is his alone)and indeed the ideas that brand consultancies come up with are usually bland and generic.
    As far as I am concerned the first view is the theory and the second the reality.

  17. There are of course exceptions to every rule; but in general I would agree with that summation.
    Brand strategists are good at just that, but are they good at understanding and communicating that with/to the public? Not usually.

  18. Firstly it depends on the brief from the client. Shape my brand and build my brand are two different things which in the past clients have been unable to distinguish between resulting in disgruntled customers.
    Secondly the very nature of these service partners has created a polarised view which I think is extreme. By default brand consultants have usually focused their efforts, insight and strategies around ONE point in time, the now. Whereas on the other hand, advertising agencies have always been tasked with shaping and looking to the future and creating future value (sales). But my view is that both approaches have in isolation worked for clients. It all depends on the problems, the brief and what is required.
    Not wanting to sit on the fence but whoever can think creatively, understand the business problem and generate commercial gain for the client is the ‘winner’, whatever camp they sit in.
    So, surely the challenge and debate must be centered on who is best placed to offer the complete service in the future. Advertising agencies (not all..) must stop being one dimensional and understand that brands do not stop and start with ads and brand consultants must realise that design means nothing if it has no meaning.

  19. Great topic to raise. I am not sure if the same thing applies in the UK, but in the US agencies are somewhat at fault for this situation (despite producing more creative, interesting strategies).
    As Richard points out, the usual casts of characters in consultancy terms (Interbrand, Monitor, Futurebrand etc.) often produce very bland, generalist strategies. But hey have also created the perception (and often the expertise) that they are selling a brand business strategy vs. an advertising brand strategy. Their strategies may look or feel less radical, but they are tailored for creating financial decisions, business plans and employee behavior, not just communication. This makes the strategy easier to sell (and makes for an easier relationship altogether), enables the consultancy to have more frequent conversations with the executive board and CEO (vs. the VP marketing) the business side of the brand and not advertising.
    I am certainly not trying to argue that being radical and creating strong business logic is mutually exclusive. Rather that agencies (in the US at least) have left the door open for consultants by not arming themselves with staff who can speak authoritatively about things like the impact of cost structures and distributor relationships on brand delivery. We can only be radical if we can show with conviction that being radical makes good business sense and if we only talk about business before advertising. This has a big impact on revenue models, how business is won etc.
    A bigger challenge for agencies is the increasing numbers of consultancies started by smart ex-agency planners (e.g. Red Scout in the US). These people can write good strategy, can talk business and can undercut agencies and consultancies with lower overhead. They are well placed to seize on the shift from brand imagery to brand experience (where having a creative department and studio is perhaps less important than having a few great designers). Incidentally, these planners left the agencies because they often fell there was nowhere to move on to (another challenge agencies face)
    Ad agency strategies may foresee a future for a business, but the way they make the king of money that HMV wants is by one thing – communication

  20. Mark, I think the point about creating the whole brand experience is so crucial and the distinguishing said it better than me. This is why I refer to agences as being one dimensional, in that, the brand means nothing if the commercial operation cannot fulfil that brand..
    In my experience working for agencies (and not saying this is the rule of thumb), they sometimes lack the willingnes, confidence or insight to question, advise and comment on business process and systems – the cogs which bring that brand to life and make it real.
    There are numerous times when I have developed a strategy knowing the commercial ‘fulfillment’ doesn’t live up to the promise. And if questioned I’m faced with client objections, promises and a ‘don’t worry’ attitude. Not to sure if it is arrogance, ignorance or blind faith but clearly its a no-go area.
    Equally, some clients will listen and value the holistic business ideas you may offer but traditional agency models are not geared for this kind of thinking, investment and what’s more, it doesn’t generate income.

  21. Maybe that lack of willingness is because they believe that the client won’t want them to interfere in that area; which in turn could be caused by (as Mark said) the agencies lack of people who can talk effectively about cost structures and the like.
    Too many agencies work in Mode 7. (2d thought made to look like 3d.)

  22. I now think my comments on Honda were quite tame actually. Happy to join this fray if its not too late :)
    Please take the following comments in the spirit of enjoying a good argument, but meaning any real bodily harm…
    The problem with ad people is that if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
    “The World’s Favourite Airline, The 4th Emergency Service, It’s Good To Talk, Every Little Helps, The Power of Dreams and Try Something New Today…”
    This is just a list of slogans.
    The problem being that many ad people think that a slogan is a strategy, or sometimes they even think it is the brand. it is not far from that point of view to one word equity.
    Is Nike ‘just do it’ or is it more the hundreds of great ideas, from run london, to Chinese nationalism, to shoes that are like bare feet. I know what Russell thinks and after all he did work there.
    It’s a lot like design agencies thinking the design is the brand. (Orange? it’s Orange).
    Interbrand and Enterprise IG and that lot are of course quite dull, and incapable of original biting strategies. But then they are corporate identity agencies with not very bright consultants keeping boring clients convinced they are understanding their business becayse they also read the FT today.
    The whole consultancy paranoia thing misses the mark. Management consultants only ever do ROI and pricing studies. marketing consultants are often also doing odd jobs, eg NPD.
    The bigest danger to ad agencies is themselves. For instance their inability to change, despite overwhelming evidence that they are in the process of becoming about as relevant as opera. Discuss.
    ps obviously good agencies like United arent like that ;)

  23. it would be a sad world if advertising was ever considered more relevant than opera

  24. As long as the strategy defines the slogan I dont think that is a problem. The issue is when its the other way round.
    I think that most of those you quoted are slogans based on the strategy that was needed at the time. BA’s was specifically designed to increase their international reputation; The Power of Dreams was created after W+K did a large research project into the aims of Honda, etc.
    I think he means Opera compared to other entertainment media; which I think is a bit strong…but will become true for agencies that don’t adapt.
    Designers (i know plenty) like to think that they are designing the brand; and in essence they are. The logo is a huge huge part of any brand. But it has to reflect the other attributes of the brand/company; otherwise it will never work.
    Its the same again, strategy must give birth to the creative; the other way around can never work beyond the immediate short term.

  25. Yes, yes, as always it comes down to that link. That age-old link between the business and the creative. The two need to be bridged–whether via a unified team, an idea, or a particularly brilliant client. It doesn’t matter who steps up and does it.
    As Mark says, Brand Consultancies tend to focus on the first and Agencies on the last. It pains me to think of the amount of wasted money (and time!) that’s been thrown at elaborate upfront processes with months of research, workshops and charts only to result in a ‘territory.’ It’s worthless. Absolutely worthless without a powerful articulation.
    On the other hand, my stomach knots in the other direction when I work with agencies who don’t bother doing the due diligence on the business side (due to ego? cost savings?) and end up wasting all that money on the back. Agencies who don’t do the thinking up-front (or who haven’t broadened their thinking to include the other disciplines) have no right to complain about Consultancies.

  26. John,
    How can you say that the world’s favourite airline, the fourth emergency service or it’s good to talk are just slogans. They are all platforms for preference which in their different ways gives the brand a new and powerful role in their lives. Even your molecule idea still recognises that every brand needs a point.

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