Not for the first time, a tweet by Richard Shotton got me thinking – ‘A rare example of an ad agency advertising themselves well’.
(It showed an old Fallon McElligott house ad.)
When was the last time I saw an agency advertising itself?
I couldn’t think of one.
It’s a shame, because as well as helping clients get a sense of an agency, house ads were a great way for people like me to a snapshot of the culture within the agency.
For example, I’d come across an ad like this, and although I liked their ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’ ad, I’d know, without a shadow of a doubt, it wasn’t for me.
Whereas I’d come across an ad like this and think ‘I want to be in that gang!’.
So why have they vanished?
Could it be that in these austere times it simply feels too reckless to spend part of your recently reduced fee on an ad promoting yourself?
What would be a more damning indictment of our business than that the companies that make ads don’t value them enough to spend their own money on? Maybe it’s now harder to find your audience?
Virtually all the ads here ran in Campaign, pre-internet, it was the only place to discover what happening in the world of advertising.
Thursday mornings wouldn’t start until it had been read from cover to cover.
That’s no longer the case, no publication that has the dominance and influence that Campaign once had.
But it must be possible to find our industry? If there’s one thing online is good at it’s targeting small groups.
It could be that it’s just too hard to be the agency AND the client.
One of the reasons clients hire agencies is their objectivity, if you want an objective view of a particular child don’t ask the people who made it.
You need a bit of distance to offer opinions like ‘no-one cares about that’, ‘too much information’ or ‘ten product points is nine too many for a 20 ad”.
But, is it really harder now to create an ad for your agency today than it was then?
Agencies used to have a wide range of personalities and philosophies.
These generally reflected the people who started them.
Generally the people responsible for creating the work, if was said that an agency’s client list would mirror the Creative Partner’s shopping basket.
Imagine David Abbott wearing a pair of Levi’s? John Hegarty driving a Volvo Estate?
Dave Trott wearing a Patek Philippe or Tim Delaney watching a Toshiba tv?
Such clearly defined agency personalities made it easier to draw up appropriate pitch lists, choose agencies and write house ads.
But in the last decade, as ad agencies chased the latest shiny new object, world-class communication agencies have willingly turned themselves into third-rate tech companies.
In that time, tech has gone from specialised black art that clients were willing to pay a premium for to an everyday commodity that’s bought like bog rolls or tea bags.
It’s meant agency positionings have converged
Bespoke agency positionings like BBH’s ‘We don’t sell. We make you want to buy’ have been replaced across the board with a version of ‘Give us some money and we’ll do what you want’.
It’s hard to charge much for that and even harder to write a house ad for.
E.g. Here’s my house ads.
Campbell Doyle Dye.
Having had a complicated stop-start beginning, we wanted to thank all those people or companies who’d offered space, investment or good wishes.
We wanted to buy them a beer.
In retrospect we got too creative, perhaps ‘artsy’ is a better word.
It looks unusual and cool, perhaps people might be intrigued to look into what it’s about?
Big words saying ‘we’d like to buy these people a beer’ next to a list, and a date would’ve been better.
About a year or two later we had another go.
We’d done some nice work and wanted to show people.
The thing that seemed to connect all the work was that it felt confident, so we wrote a line about confidence and put this rough together.
Then it occurred to me that although all the ads within our ad exuded confidence, the ad they were within, our ad, wasn’t confident at all, it did what we talk clients out of week in week out; show every product they made.
We needed to take our own advice; Make a relevant point as simply and powerfully as possible.
I’d been made aware that each of our clients had grown in the over the last year, true, we only had seven clients at that point, but it still a neat fact.
I mocked up this.
It seemed a bit straight, there was no clever writing, no clever visual stuff, but I liked it.
Then I worried it was a bit like this ad our friends had run.
It had the same bald, non-clever headline, the same minimal art direction…sod it, let’s have another go.
Maybe we could give our view on advertising, maybe we could be bold and brave and get people to take in more than an eight word headline?
I wrote this.
It did a two things most clients would never do; print nothing on a full page you’ve paid for and it didn’t feature a logo.
Is that brave or foolish?
It won a couple of awards and lead to a couple of conversations with a tractor importer in Norwich.
(I found another one I was working on that we didn’t end up running.)
In retrospect I should’ve coloured in the ‘Sold more’ headline in blue and run that.
What an idiot!
It’s the most relevant to someone looking for an agency.
Dye Holloway Murray.
In 2009, we managed to bludgeon our way onto the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles pitch, it was 6 months into the global financial crisis, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles were dearer than most of the competition and Volkswagen had spent decades building up an honest, totally non-bullshitting tone of voice.
I figured we needed to talk business with businessmen, explain why it’s worth paying more for a Volkswagen than a Vauxhall or Renault.
To cut a long story short, I ended up working with David Abbott on the pitch.
(The long story is here: https://davedye.com/2013/11/29/abbo/)
Whilst at lunch with David one day, probably whining about a lack of new business, David said ‘you need some positional ads, when we started we ran an ad that said “Watch out Colletts, we’re only £34million behind you.” We did it because we liked Colletts, we wanted to think we were like them…a smaller version of Colletts. You need to align yourselves with the agencies you admire, so that people know that you’re a creative agency like them.’
The idea made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
‘We’ve run a lot of ads, I can trace a new piece of business to every ad’ he told me.
Sod it! I found David’s ad.
How do I copy that without copying it?
For a start, we don’t want to appear in it, that just seems weird.
Ok, so no picture.
We seemed to be getting premium business, Vertu, The Macallan, The Economist, so I thought it should look premium, stylish, but fun premium, not all black and serious.
So I picked a stylish font and picked words out in different colours.
But what do we say?
I made a list of agencies I admired; Mother, Wieden Kennedy and Fallon.
I didn’t want to copy, but even the sentiment ‘Watch out Mother, we’re only £200m behind you’, it sounded so cheesy… and ludicrous.
Perhaps if we were self-deprecating?
Maybe we should pick out good things about them and say we don’t have that problem;
a) Fallon – tons of accounts.
b) Mother – Multi-cultural.
c) Wieden’s – based in uber-cool Shoreditch.
That seems like a more contemporary, tongue-in-cheek way of doing that ‘Collets’ ad.
We ran these three.
Not even a call from an East Anglian tractor importer.
The only response was this good-natured blog post from Wieden’s.
Here’s how others agencies did it.
Some great, like the DDB ads below, (the ‘Account Man’ one was written by David Abbott), some less great, like the Allen Brady Marsh ads way below.
Abbott Mead Vickers.
Gold Greenlees Trott.
Hedger Mitchell Stark.
Deighton & Mullen.
Ogilvy & Mather.
Wight Collins Rutherford Scott Matthews Marcantonio.
Love this one, presumably the idea is to say ‘We’re creative too! Honest!’.
So they do the least creative ad known to man.
Richard Cope & Partners.
Saatchi & Saatchi.
Scali, McCabe, Sloves.
Elgie Stewart Smith.
Allen Brady Marsh.
Ford & Westbrook.
Papert Koenig Lois.
The & Partnership.
J. Walter Thompson.