The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Funny How The Advertising Capitalists Utilise A Communist Approach To Business Problem Solving …
July 28, 2008, 7:00 am
Filed under: Comment

One Way Photo: Timothy Schenck

I’m back home for a few days which gives me a chance to have a think about some of the stuff that’s been going on in my/our lives as of late. [Not including having to put up with Andy at close quarters for far too long/often!]

To be honest, it’s all been very exciting – but rather than go on about that [mainly because there’s shedloads still to do] – I’d like to write about one of the key differences I’ve noticed between how an organisation like Google operates [especially in the area of ‘problem solving’] and adland.

Actually, I/we have noticed quite alot of operational/attitudinal differences so maybe over the coming weeks/months [time, confidentiality clauses and other things that get me ranting, allowing] I’ll detail a few more of them because there’s some massive learnings that I believe both organisations/industries could benefit from reading/hearing.

[Well, that is if you think my viewpoint has any validity at all – which we all know it doesn’t – so moving swiftly on …]

So last week we were sitting around with some of the Google folk when the subject of adland came up.

Putting aside that a load of geeks had the audacity to say people in advertising are out of touch [that comment is just for you Jonathan, ha!] I found it very interesting that they said the worst two presentations they’d EVER seen came from big ad agency networks/holding companies.

Apparently in both cases a bunch of big wigs had come in and talked about their ‘proprietary system’ and how it led to a bunch of their famous ads being created.

The thing is, the Google folk found what was being said weird – not just because they didn’t recognise some of the ads being called ‘famous’ – but because [1] they couldn’t believe the networks were claiming their system was unique when it sounded awfully basic [not to mention very similar to the one their competitors were bragging about] and [2] they couldn’t help but feel the agencies were talking about processes and systems because they thought it would help them ‘connect’ with the engineers in the room.

The thing is – and this is a lesson to any in adland who claim EVERYTHING has to follow a regimented, researched, all-encompassing process – Google don’t believe that one single process can solve it all.

Sure there may be certain elements within a task that requires specific processes to be adhered to, however when Google [or any engineer for that matter] tries to create something new, they tend to develop a process around the challenge, rather than make the challenge work within the process.

I know that sounds like common sense but have a think about how many agencies talk/think/act like that?

No wonder so many ad campaigns are so bloody generic!


In their desperate bid to be corporately relevant, adland decided to put all their eggs in the ‘proprietary tool’ basket [even though in many cases, the only ‘unique element’ is the name attached to their system] … and while some clients have ‘fallen’ for this approach, the fact every business problem is answered with ‘an ad’ shows just how out-of-touch they [and their proprietary tools] really are.

[Yes I know that at this point Google basically just live online, but [1] they’re still more imaginative than many in adland [2] they are still a relatively young organisation [3] I’m working on changing that, hence I’ve asked them to come up with ideas how the brand would/could exist if there was a Worldwide power cut, ha!]

The difference between Google and adland is that Google live by guiding principals rather than a single, regimented process – and whilst there are some agencies out there who follow a similar approach – the short-sightedness [or arrogance] of the big networks is becoming more and more apparent each and every day.

Sir Martin Sorrell calls Google the ‘frenemy’ … and he’s right, because on one hand they’re encouraging/forcing adland to raise their game and show just how clever, creative and imaginative we can be whereas on the other, they’re ready to take away our livlihoods if we continue to ignore the needs/wants/desires of clients and society.

Right, I’m off to spend abit of time with the wife so I hope you’re all toptastic and I’ll catch you soon …

[PS: I cannot tell you how great it is to meet people who can articulate why they don’t like something, clearly and precisely. It makes such a refreshing change from the usual, “I just don’t like it”]

38 Comments so far
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Music to my ears. So many ad networks/clients have a (bullshit) systematic approach and an ambiguous outcome (“I just don’t like it”) and then there’s Google with an ambiguous process and a definite outcome (“I don’t like it because”)

Adam posted about this just recently too saying exactly what you’ve just said:

“Some clients are too unnerved by ambiguity to accept this and create gargantuan superstructures of bullshit to provide a sense of security.”

I get the feeling agency days are numbered as we know them given the risible contempt they are held in. Not a bad post for a change.

Comment by Charles Frith

I’ve no idea why those fucking smileys tipped up!

Comment by Charles Frith

Ha Rob, VERRRRRRY timely post.
I’ll shoot you an email today sometime.

Comment by Age

Nice PS – it makes me realise that my negativity here is appreciated.

Comment by John

you fucking creep campbell πŸ™‚

actually youre worse, youre a twat because youre giving the multinationals information they need to look less fucking stupid but as were being all peace and love at the moment, i forgive you and commend you on your kindness. like fuck i do

Comment by andy@cynic

doddsy, professor fucking smart arse or otherwise known as the blog grandfather.

wonder which one he prefers to be known by? whatever it is, ill be calling him the opposite

Comment by andy@cynic

What makes you think they’ll recognise it as valuable information and/or know how to react to it?

Comment by John

I am always impressed – and somewhat scared/disheartened – that you [Andy] can write evil comments while supposidly engaged in a phone conversation with me!

I look forward to your email Age [though I have a feeling you’re not going to be very happy writing it] and thanks for linking me to the post Charles – it’s very good.

This isn’t about everything Google doing being brilliant and everything adland does being crap because that’s plainly not the case – however I/we have been very impressed at some of the things we’ve seen/been exposed to because it fosters an air of creativity even within an organisation with 15,000+ employees … which is a damn sight better than most agencies who have only a fraction of that number working there.

As I wrote on a post over at NP’s blog [] I think adland [especially the ‘multinational’ variety] needs to stop thinking they are brilliant at everything and open their eyes and thinking [ie: be a magpie] to other systems and processes because they are one of the few industries that has the potential to solve business problems regardless of channel, medium or category and if we can embrace that [rather than just say it] we’ll get our value back in the eyes of people & commerce – even if will require some fundamental shifts in thinking from remuneration through to what we actually produce

Of course some agencies are already doing it, but I wholeheartedly want the whole industry to adopt this sort of thinking because [1] I hate to see an industry I love happily walk into the abyss and [2] I hate seeing talented people not being able to show their worth because of restrictive practice and thinking on behalf of their employer.

Here’s to the future – and just wait till I tell you about the Phoenix Meetings – that’ll be a complete mindfuck for adland πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

Hello John, I love how you have subtely [or not so subtely in this case] positioned yourself as the “Guru” whereas everyone else on this blog is a fool.

You should be in politics … oh hang on, you’d be surrounded by a bunch of fools there as well wouldn’t you πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

Duly noted

Comment by Jonathan Rosenberg

That sounds like a threat πŸ˜‰

Comment by Rob

Disruption is, of course, unique and paradigm shifting though. It gets to the fundamentals of economics I’ll have you know.

Comment by northern

Review time is it NP?

You’re right of course, the DISRUPTION process [haha] is paradigm-shifting and economically rooted, you just have to see the SIA and LG ‘Scarlet’ campaigns to see that πŸ˜‰

Comment by Rob

You’re irony detection seems to be malfunctioning. You’re working far too hard.

Comment by northern

No it’s not … I was trying to protect your career-limiting-comment … afterall, us bald Northern [well, north of Watford] blokes have to stick together.

Besides, DISRUPTION does have some great examples in there … what has the DEMAND strategy given the World … well, apart from some planner comedy?

PS: As an aside, can I just say how much I love being back in this timezone – it allows me to actually respond to peoples comments at the time rather than wait till the next day when people give even less of a shit. How sad am I – wishing I didn’t have to go back on Wednesday just so I can answer comments on a blog I said I wasn’t going to write for 2 months. Advertising people – you just can’t trust them can you!

Comment by Rob

I always thought that an agency stating they have a special process of working only means one thing: They are shit. I exclude TBWA and disruption here, because I don’t think it’s a process, I’d say it’s basic common sense (that you don’t exactly do, what your competitors do).
All the agencies that you consider to be creative and successful (Anomaly, Droga5, WK, CP+B, Goodby, Farfar) don’t have a model. They have a philosophy. They have their special approach. What basically is collaborative work. You stick your heads together, think hard, work hard, keep your spine strong, see the client as a partner not as a client…and in the end some bloody good work comes out.
I don’t really have a point here, do I? Anyway. Stop reloading this site every 30 seconds and spend some quality time with Jil. Mail soon.

Comment by Seb

I know what you mean Seb but 2 little points …

1/ Process is vital – the issue is when a company believes one formulaic approach can solve all tasks asked of it.

2/ DISRUPTION is most definitely a process … it used to represent TBWA’s philosophical approach, but then they saw they could make more money out of creating a formulaic system.

To be fair, it’s good – well, at least better than most – but it still feels abit weird given they once said “stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different response” and yet they are now selling a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to all their clients.

And they say irony is dead … or maybe that’s what NP said about me, ha!

Better go and be nice to the wifey – till next time.

Comment by Rob

i think big ad agencies try to own processes in order to create a justification for the quote.

rather than being able to truly adhere to the belief of what is being developed by saying it is is worth X much. full stop. adland has gone the way of the economic rationalism it helped create, by having to quantify good, creative/strategic thinking and ideas. it’s much easier to do that if you’ve given it a pet name.

Comment by lauren

Why ad agencies don’t create fee structures that also take into account quantifiable success metrics is beyond me. Well, actually I know perfectly well why they don’t [and to be fair, sometimes the client has such an involvement in the process that what an agency thinks is the right strategy gets completely diluted] however if adland wants to get a fair [or unfair] fee again, they have to try taking some of the risk rather than have this holier-than-thou “we’re always right” attitude.

Without doubt, the fact my little company was able to last the first 3 years was because of our willingness to share the risk – and the fact we are still here and commanding a higher profit % than many “big shops” is testimony to the fact clients are willing to pay if you prove your worth rather than just say it or try and claim one 30″ TVC made all the difference.

God, what an ego comment that is … Andy’s influence has got too big … thank god I’m away from him for a few days, ha!

Oh – and a big hello to everyone – it’s been a while and it’s nice to hear from you.

Comment by Rob

Quantifiable success metrics? Wasn’t that the name of your band?

Comment by John

rob, remember a while back, george, you and i were discussing the benefits of using words more like the artworld in terms of ‘commission’ and ‘sold’ – this would also take into account ‘quantifiable success metrics’. when an artist has a sell-out show, their next works (even if it’s not quite as good) are priced accordingly – you pay for the previous (and continued) success of the artist – you invest in the hard work of the past, as well as the innovation of the future. and the reverse is also true (sadly).

anyway, that’s enough from me – enjoy your time at home lovely.

Comment by lauren

how can you say ive influenced you when youre coming over all gwynth fucking paltrow? get a fucking grip man, youll be hand pressing flowers next. if you associate your behaviour with me one more time ill fucking sue. this isnt about me, its not even google, its san francisco you should be fucking blaming. i hope jill can turn you back into a man by the time you come back or you might be eating from a straw for a while. now enjoy your break and grow back your fucking balls πŸ™‚

Comment by andy@cynic

What Andy said.

Comment by Billy Whizz

What Billy said.
(That’s a first for you, isn’t it mate?)

Comment by Seb

Refering to what Lauren wrote, I think that’s how Anomaly is getting paid by their clients. Despite a monthly charge their remuneration depends on how successful their ideas are. I maybe wrong with this one but I think that it would be a good idea.

Though the big shops would argue that “you don’t pay a baker according to how good the bread is”.
Another point is that an artist has full control of their work. So unless an agency hasn’t the same control (which they unfortunately won’t have) it’s hard to have this payment scheme.
Maybe agencies should try a double track. The clients either can pay a monthly fee and can bullshit as much as they want or they pay according to the success of an angecy’s work while the agency has full control of it.

Nonetheless it always depends on the client. There are coroporate management wankers that will never trust in the power of good ideas but in pre-test and market research. And there will be managers with a sense of true entrepreneurship that trust in them.

Oh god. I sound like a naive prick.

Comment by Seb

What did Seb say?

Comment by John

lol, classic Dodds, ha!

Comment by Age

You can see why I went into business with Andy can’t you – what a kind, considerate man he is. Oh hang on, he’s a rude, obnoxious prick – but he’s ugly and funny [and rich] so he’s worth putting up with. That sounds awfully like the rationale wives #1 and #2 came up with as well πŸ™‚

Hello Seb, I wouldn’t say you sound a naive prick – but maybe abit naive.

Of course some of the big networks say “you don’t pay a baker according to how good the bread is” because they have clients who regard distribution, cost and timing as the predominant factors in their relationship – mainly because they see their advertising and agencies as being nothing more than ‘suppliers’ who contribute little to the success of their business.

Of course whether this attitude is because the client hasn’t given the agency opportunity to show just what they can do or whether the agency hasn’t been able to think outside of traditional advertising solutions is open to debate, but this is something that could be argued back and forth for years so I’ll quickly move on πŸ™‚

You are right that there is a difference between an artist and an ad agency – one gets to do things completely on their own terms and one has to incorporate a number of external influences into their reccomednation … however the payoff for this lack of complete control is a greater sense of financial security because for every artist who achieves a good living, there’s probably a 100 ad execs.

What we do at cynic is not the sort of thing a major network could do because it impacts both the clients we choose to work for and the remuneration schemes we offer – however when we set the company up, we knew from the start we had to make clients feel we were focused on their short/long term goals, not just ads – which is why we incorporated elements like ‘idea royalty’ into our cost structure as this serves the double purpose of letting clients know we share the risk and are focused on the bigger goal, not just the execution of short-term marketing collarterol.

Of course it needed us to has case studies and be prepared to take an initial hit to prove what we were saying – but that’s what you can do when you’re small and have a rather famous man as your first client.

Remuneration is a massive issue in whether agencies get to do what they are truly capable of because [1] quite often they already expect too much for too little and [2] clients need to feel comfortable with what they’re paying [and how it is quantified] or they’ll just say no … so unless there’s a major shift in attitudes from both parties, I think we’re going to see the more innovative thinking from the smaller agencies with the entrepenureal/ambitious clients whilst the big networks continue to get a smaller share of the fucking massive multinational client pie.

Maybe πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

can people please stop assuming that artists have complete control over their work?! trust me, i’m in the middle of having to modify the fuck out of my ideas so that i can fight tooth and nail for a commission which is the same amount as rob paid for R2D2… sheesh!

Comment by lauren

R2D2 was a business expense Lauren … and anyone who says anything to the contrary is a liar. Or a tax expert. πŸ™‚

Comment by Rob

Every client gets the agency they deserve.
And most clients ending up with the McCanns of this world are just…, well they deserve no better.

Rob, as R2D2 officially was destined to be a presenting tool…did he ever saw the inside of a meeting room?

Comment by Seb

Of course he did Seb, we use him to present to clients all the time and they are always impressed – and every now and then, even more than the work we’ve just shown to them. Bastards πŸ™‚

As I said, it’s a business expense – we don’t take the piss you know, ha!

Comment by Rob

That they weren’t particularly impressed by the agencies that they met themselves is neither surprising nor an adequate measurement with which to gage their overall genius. It just indicates that they have a modicum of commonsense.

Comment by Marcus

which puts them ahead of most fuckers in adland then eh marcus. they come up with google earth and strawberry frog produce thumbvertising. they offer analytics and mcann talk demand strategies. no contest is it. if i didnt know a bunch of clever fucks in advertising, id be scared to show my face in their playschool furniture office. im amazed they let us breathe the same fucking air as them. im talking about rob and george, it goes without saying they want to wallow in my shadow. you good marcus? being fucking well behaved at the moment, this part of your new leaf i heard about? how fucking depressing, im surrounded by happy clappies all the time at the moment, wheres the fucking hate gone πŸ™‚

Comment by andy@cynic

I am not good, no.

Comment by Marcus

For a scary moment Andy it looked like you were being humble but you came through in the end πŸ™‚

Comment by Pete

whats wrong brown? are the printing krauts getting on your tits? whoever it is tell them to fuck off, itll make you feel better till they smash you in the face

Comment by andy@cynic

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