Squirrel! Advertising Agencies Chase Utopian Theories

There’s nobody easier to sell to than other salesmen. Unless, of course, you’re promising a consumer revolution to advertising agencies. Then, stand back and let the stampede commence!

I was reminded of this recently by the promotion for a communication conference. It opens as follows:

THE GREAT DISRUPTION – The consumer strikes back. 

For decades new technologies and media consolidation overwhelmed viewers and readers with new platform options, countless channels, confusing dials, settings and features no one asked to get. Now, the ’disrupted’ consumer is the one disrupting old media and ad institutions. The agency is scrambling to remain relevant in a world where consumers ignore ads and work their social networks to make decisions. They are fleeing the desktop for mobile media faster than content and marketers can keep up. Their love of time-shifting and multi-screen multi-tasking has attracted a mob of tech, media and digital companies all skirmishing for their attention as all platforms seem to converge in the living room. Technologies are no longer the great disruptors; the consumer is.

Recent email promoting the Online Media Marketing Association conference

Sound familiar? It should. It reflects group think found in many corners of the advertising biz and featured in a recent Fast Company article. Sadly, this group think is rampant among people who are paid enough that they should know better.

It seems to me, though, that ideas like this get their power in the advertising industry because agencies dislike the idea that they are selling things. All this “power to the consumer” and “consumer revolution” group think seems to be popular because it is anti-salesmanship.

It doesn’t matter that the ONLY reason that their jobs (advertising roles) exist is to help companies sell things to their consumers. It doesn’t matter whether we are in brand advertising, social media, online content creation, retail, display, outdoor or hard core direct response – everything we do is about selling goods to people.

Perhaps this reality is too hard to accept when you have an elite training at an art or portfolio school. Not liking the reality, it’s much nicer for a 20-something (or 40-something) to get excited about some nearly utopian mythology implying companies who become social butterflies will see their goods whisked off the shelf. (These theories usually help agencies make themselves rich while accomplishing little for their clients.)

My tendency is to respond with a tough message: Deal with it or get out. Truth is, you shouldn’t be in advertising unless you are dedicated to selling goods (today or in the future).

That doesn’t mean we’re sharks – it means we know our value to our clients. What advertising does is important and valuable – to people, to consumers, and to the economy. Our work creates jobs at companies (desperately needed jobs) in manufacturing, engineering, accounting, and more. Our work helps connect consumers with products they love. Well executed, our work builds a strong foundation for companies to thrive.

Of particular interest, the claims in the OMMA statement flat out aren’t true. So, for anyone who wants, I’ve posted a line-by-line deconstruction of the comments.

Why write all this? Advertising is important work to the country and our economy. It deserves better than this AdBuster-driven self-loathing.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

4 Responses to Squirrel! Advertising Agencies Chase Utopian Theories

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Squirrel! Advertising Agencies Chase Utopian Theories « Doug Garnett's Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Marci says:

    Dollars are just finding different pockets. This is just about Darwinian selection – the fittest will survive. Savvy Marketers are becoming more like Orchestra Directors, combining multiple channels of media and with the ability to test multiple messages and measure results…yes it requires creativity, it requires imagination, it requires re-inventing the way companies communicate with the consumer – at the end of the day, it may be a whole new world…and maybe a little shake-up as accountability “Advertising” becomes a new measure. Companies are still going to pay for leads and pay to get business. It’s just a matter of who’s going to help them do it and get paid for it.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Marci –

      Interesting thoughts. But I fundamentally disagree that the world has changed. After 20 years of intense efforts and hype, a recent report noted that online retail will increase from 6% to 8% of all retail by 2014. The report was from Forrester who pulls out all the stops to make these numbers dramatic. A 2% further increase? A total of less than one in 10 retail sales via online? A sweet little side channel for retailers.

      This is one example of the small shifts that advertisers get sucked into thinking are “complete change”. There is no, and will be no, complete change. I’m in the field constantly with consumers. Is there change? Yes. New media approaches arise and new venues for getting to consumers.

      Think of how much “new media” is really very consumer offensive. We have to bait people into consuming our content then switch to selling to them. (Old Spice did this. GoDaddy does this. Pretty much all the big brands are doing it. And we think people like this”)

      But these are small evolutionary changes. And, considering the “massive retail shift” of 6% so far, much less dramatic than the headlines that sucker-in the agency types.

      So why are agency types so easily suckered? As I maintain in the post I find that there is a very large mass of people in advertising who really don’t like the truth that their goal is sales.

      Thanks for the thoughts.


  3. I cannot think of any other way to do business, savvy advertising requires measuring, optimizing and tweaking a campaign to its full extent. Those who do not measure cannot be guaranteed success!
    That theory applies even in life, if your not sure where your heading in life then it is time to look at the numbers. What that means is look at your life and measure whether your actions are getting you desired results or not. There is no other way!

    The same applies to business, you cannot function today using yesterdays technology. Our world is changing so fast and we all need to keep up with the trends. Therefore look at the numbers and start measuring, be it business or anything. Brand strategy is also key to winning in the brands and advertising arena. Life is a numbers game!

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