Old Spice? Same old problem. Agencies Need to Learn Business Planning Skills

A few years ago I heard an author speak about his new advertising book. His primary claim was that clients turn down great creative because they are ignorant. Challenging thought. And wrong.

In my experience, creative is approved more often and more easily when agencies have the business skills needed to explain work’s impact in business terms. But a vast number of agencies, lacking these skills, seek to avoid having campaigns measured for business impact.

And so, let’s consider the recent discussions of the Old Spice campaign. Interpretation of results from this campaign are in a bit of flux. Last week, we were informed the campaign had become a social phenomenon – spreading like wildfire on the web and on social media. Millions of clicks and multiple fan sites made it a social “happening”. Of course, clicks are pretty meaningless. So we were also informed that the TV campaign had delivered astounding sales – leading social media “experts” to crown the campaign with glory.

Then there was the weekend. Now AdAge has found that what we were told may be entirely false. They found that Old Spice had a good quarter at retail – just like their competitors. Old Spice retail numbers were primarily driven by coupon efforts – just like their competitors. And all the percentages of growth are remarkably similar to their competitors with similar coupon efforts. In other words, it looks like the much touted campaign had little to no impact (Note: AdWeek erred by analyzing the campaign in a vacuum – without the competitive context.)

Whoever was analyzing the campaign before AdAge got hold of it lacked the business foundation necessary for the analysis. Of course, I don’t know who hoisted the “Mission Accomplished” banner. But in the cases I’ve been close to, it’s typically the agency who takes this step.

Agencies Need to Add Skills to Focus on Business Impact

Clients should be angry that the advertising business accepts stories like this one about Old Spice at face value. And they should demand that agencies take substantive action to merge their planning with business realities.

Merely discussing obscure (and highly clever) brand theories is not the same as discussing a business result. Business results must be closely tied to market share or the P&L. Based on our success at Atomic Direct, I’d start with four key changes.

1. Agencies need to choose to care about business results. Agency culture honors awards and new business wins far above client business results. So hiring new skills won’t make a difference unless the culture changes with a long-term effort that focuses every agency activity with expectations for client business results.

2. Agencies need to hire new skill sets – people with the ability to plan and analyze business results from advertising. These people are most needed in strategy, planning & client services. Then they are needed to influence every part of agency work. After all, great creatives aren’t often good at business. And that’s okay when, as we’ve done at my agency, they work closely with people who are skilled at leveraging advertising creativity for business impact.

3. Agencies need to stop using “long term brand impact” as the catch-all excuse to justify ineffective campaigns. I expect that next week we’ll hear that Old Spice’s intense social media interest will deliver improved brand value over 1 to 3 years. It might. But clients shouldn’t trust this logic at face value. Future payout is a business result and that means there should be ways to reasonably estimate the size of that impact.

4. Agencies need to develop a robust language for different types of business impact. Advertising isn’t a one note theme where immediate cash register sales are only possible business result. But today even the best textbooks lack the sophistication to help avid students define business goals and measure results.

Weak Planning for Clients Leads to Weak Agency Relationships

Old Spice is an old story – mass awareness and cultural buzz without business impact. Agencies used to get away with stories like this. But clients are taking a more serious look at the impact of their advertising.

In part, the arrival of new media has given them new opportunity to investigate relative effectiveness. With agencies eager to play in this new sandbox, clients have switched spending from old media to new – seeking higher returns from a response measured medium.

From what I can see, they have only rarely found that new media creates higher returns (and I think we’ll only find Old Spice results become fewer and fewer now that they’ve fully embraced social media). But clients have also seen something more troubling. Too often their business results haven’t suffered when they shift money from traditional campaigns to new media. Social media advocates want to claim this reflects social media strength. I disagree. The measured social media impacts I’ve seen for mass market products are really bad.

Instead, what these clients have found reflects the fact that lacking good business planning, none of their campaigns (traditional or new media) are delivering good business results.

And so, clients should demand business results from all advertising – old media OR new. But agencies shouldn’t fear this change. Agencies who develop these skills will return to a stronger position – as a partner to their clients.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

One Response to Old Spice? Same old problem. Agencies Need to Learn Business Planning Skills

  1. mark Burrell says:

    What a great article! Couldn’t agree more!

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