Why you should hire a good Advertising Agency

I’m at a friend’s beach house – half a dozen families doing the BBQ thing. The smell of Savvy Blanc mixes with sushi, burnt animal and a soft ocean breeze, making the air almost edible. The sound of kids pushing each other off trampolines and cracking heads mixes just as well with the clinking of glasses and the rabid conversation of half-pissed, sun and salt encrusted parents. It’s all very noice.

The cameras come out – snaps get taken of people, who crowd together to fit into the frame, smiling. Kids make faces to ‘ruin’ the shot and grandmother’s get grumpy and make the kids do it again. Almost everyone has a camera, either on their phone, or a ‘real’ one. I pick up a camera the size of two fists from the table. It has a lens on it about 10 cms long and thick like your arm. I ask the owner “what’s with this cannon?” and she says ‘it’s a Panasonic’. Her 13 year old, monosybilic son says ‘No Mum, he means like a gun, you know?

She has this cannon because it can take in the whole backyard in one shot, and can just as easily take micro-shots of the surface of an orange – making it possible to see the warts and troughs on its oily, rough surface. Why you ask? So did I, but was ignored as one of the kids threw a stick that cleared most of the glasses on the table.

Later that evening they plug the cameras into a mac and blast their contents onto the wall in the living room. We see a half-hour show of hundreds of photos of our kids as they were, only an hour earlier.

This is not something you could have done ten years ago. Then you would have had to go down to the chemist, wait around for a couple of hours, if not come back the next day, and then flick through the 14 or so photos finding a few good shots. To put together a show like that night’s with 200 photos would have taken you weeks and hundreds of dollars. This has taken a few minutes and cost basically zero.

This is what digital is doing to the world. It’s saving us all time and money and making life much more creative. Digital is doing to our society what digital cameras did to photography; changing it’s very structure, making everything faster, more fun, more user friendly, more marketing oriented.

We marketers are embracing it like every other aspect of society, but the fact is we are much more likely to benefit from it than almost any other profession. To us marketers the digitisation of modern life allows us to be proven relevant, to be proven potent, to be proven absolutely essential.

I love the fact we can interact with customers, almost one-on-one. That we can contact them when they are doing things relevant to our products, services. That we can test their attitudes, test ads, pricing, product designs, retail layouts, anything.

With this regular contact and trackable useful data at our fingertips, and a deeper understanding of the psychology and behaviour of our customers, and above everything, the means to change it, we are on the verge of a massive growth phase for marketing as a profession. You who are reading this in your 20’s or 30’s, will look back at 2009-2012 as the greatest single period of growth for your profession in your entire career.

What is Digital?

My definition is anything not of the ‘old’ world; that didn’t exist before the web. The millions of sites, banners, links. Messages via your phone, interactive outdoor, the 15 new free to air digital TV channels, (in an attempt to slow the encroaching power of Rupert’s pay TV and to keep Television relevant in this fragmented world). Skype, Myspace, Facebook. Those great little web movies you can buy space on….the list goes on.

Growing like Pot at Brunswick Heads

Digital is already possibly the largest media in the world, bigger than TV, and is growing faster than anything else. Rates of growth vary according to sources, but most estimates are 15-20% per annum. Digital media spend by advertisers is projected to increase to 40 percent of all media within the next 5 years according to The Australian Digital Marketing Trends survey of May 08.

But, negative bastard as I am, there are things about the digitisation of our known universe that worry me and these are some of them, in no particular order.

The wild west

In the wild west were snake-oil salesmen – they’d ride to townships and sell bottles of stuff made from snake-oil, or peppermint or whatever, and it was supposed to cure all ills. More often than not the product wouldn’t work at all, or would kill the person drinking it. The snake-oil sales men were famous for how they sold. They’d stand on the side of their painted caravan and remind the audience of the things that scared them. Measles. Hooping Cough. Headaches. How awful it would be to lose their little ones to these terrible diseases. Then they’d extol the virtues of their magical elixir – there’s was the answer to all your troubles and for only $2.00 you could be cured of all of them.

There are thousands of people flapping around claiming to solve your digital problems. (especially in SEO, web site structure, back-end guff etc.) The all know all the answers and they all speak a strange language designed to confuse you. They often have no relevant qualifications and could not keep a job in a business that requires effective work/results, so they end up selling digital cures on a retainer until you realise, many months later, a) they are full of shit and b) you could have downloaded it free from a German website, if you’d only known.


The measurability of digital campaigns is nothing short of brilliant what made direct mail powerful during the 1990’s was the fact you could prove the campaign had made X amount of money for the effort. Companies don’t like investing in gambles, regardless of how successful they are. Most companies (read here: Accountants) would rather invest $100,000 in a DM campaign to get back $120,000, than ‘gamble’ $100,000 on a TV or radio campaign that may well generate ten times that income, but can’t be directly proven to have done so. Digital gets around all of that psychological angst. You can prove in a blink what worked, how and where, and can usually do it again. Instant science-based marketing. Instant power for a marketer.

Google is not all

I love Google, but it has it’s limitations and most of them relate to the sheer numbers that come back at you to any search, and the irrelevancy of many ads to what you are looking for. Yes, it’s the greatest single natural ad machine ever invented, but is it going to last as the key driver of all things? I’m not sure. I see Google as a welcome phase for marketers, but not a concrete, long-term media solution. It’s like a bus. OK to get you from A to B when there’s a couple of you in it. But it gets uncomfortable when there’s a hundred or more crammed in, and others hanging on the sides. While it’s still brilliant for advertisers, sadly Google is starting to become unworkable from the public’s perspective because it’s getting harder and harder to find stuff that’s useful. It’s just too successful.

Twitter/facebook etc.

The social networking sites, and there are hundreds of them, create great opportunities for marketers, but also can be huge time and money wasters. A phenomenon like twitter (massive growth, could be as big as Google) is an interesting trend for society, but it’s tricky for marketers to utilise it cost effectively. It may be nice to be discussed on twitter, but as it’s hard to do much more without being seen as manipulative/interfering or God Help Us, ‘commercial’. While CRM may be a key goal of big companies, it only works when your wages for staff are lower than the money they are generating. How a sales person chatting on line one-on-one with a punter (who might only buy a widget every few months) can make it profitable, is a big challenge.

They are really great spaces to advertise on and learn from, but social media, like all things, will have product lifecycles. How many times have I heard someone say ‘I’ve just erased myself completely – too many people were getting in touch with me’ And it’s often too hard, too intense. A young marketer said to me the other day “I’m too stressed and busy to be interesting and witty every three days”. And honestly, what sort of dweeb cares if you’re washing your dog today?

Digital can be a minefield of irrelevancies. Of great sounding ideas that don’t pay off. Always ask ‘What is this going to do for us? How does this fit with our core strategy? Has it worked before? Why will it now?

You are on show

With all-connected digital, all secrecy is questionable. Why is it your on-line bank account is so often down That people can get into your server/ main frame and muck around with your files is just raw fact. If you want secrecy, write it long-hand on a piece of paper and lock it in a drawer. Don’t send it via email.

Accept that if you type it, shoot it or scan it, someone, somewhere will be able to see it. And if they think it’s interesting enough, it will be on You-tube.

This goes both ways. You can find out anything you want if you know who to ask. Go on twitter on your i-phone if you need a good hacker/drug dealer/biscuit baker in the next few minutes. The i-phone’s GPS will give you those within walking distance.

The myth of viral

Less than one in a hundred ‘viral’ campaigns work. Basically cause the public only passes things around the public finds entertaining. If they are to work they must be either sex-based, violence-based, hopelessly mushy, or make fun of people who you might not wish to be made fun of, like Sol if you’re at Telstra. They are also not necessarily cheap. They can be, but many of the successful virals have been very expensive ads to start with, just launched virally first, which as you know, is standard policy today. Many think we’ll just ‘do viral’ without the knowledge or organisational backing to make it work. Who in their right mind would put out a viral campaign, spend heaps on it and not put their name, logo or link on it? But they do, all the time.

Digital versus Traditional Advertising Agency

All agencies I know of do digital creative. It’s only ‘digital’ agencies who claim they are doing anything different. This is just self-serving, competitive wank. However, calling yourself a ‘digital expert’ may add tens of thousands to your salary in this or the next job, so please go ahead and live the hype.

Protect your brand

I’m a believer in having one agency responsible for the brand, who may or may not use sub-suppliers for non-core elements, like the java behind a bar-code inserted into your latest You-Tube performance. But many groups who are either naïve or simply unsure, go for ‘expert’ companies offering supposedly unique services.

The biggest danger of dealing with several ‘expert’ companies instead of a creative group who use a range of media, is you lose control of your brand. The various players pushing one aspect or another have their own agenda. They all want to stand out for their creative and their clever (and often self-educative) use of your money. So the people working on your brand often have little understanding of your brand’s personality and make a mess of it at the detail level. You end up with many voices, many directions and no focus. You could easily lose your brand’s raison dete.

Better to have one key creative director over-seeing the brand or you’ll end up needing to be a ‘creative focus’ expert as well as the media expert, the research expert and every other expert you have to be every day of the week as a professional marketer.

If you must use more than one supplier across campaigns (I know most of you will have a separate PR agency doing blogs, a media buying house placing banners etc.) get the parties together in one room and divide up responsibilities. Make them promise to communicate with each other and ensure you are CC’d into every email. Set KPI’s based on co-operation as well as results. And track who has the good ideas and who implements them well. They are gold.

Integration is key

Total, time-synched integration is essential. Making sure the same message (more or less) is being delivered across the spectrum of media you are using. In the coming years, only those who have the balls to stick to basic, smart marketing disciplines will stand out. The rest will go into the ether – there is so much information in the mix now, you simply become invisible unless you consistently stand for something solid.

Map out media and game plans

The best thing to do is to draw up a map of which media you are using for what aspect of the campaign over time, and how the creative may need to be tweaked in each format. When you’re combining TV with a viral launch, with bar-coded outdoor, with PR, with a promotion on pack, with a dealership promotion, (insert your own combinations of media here please) there’s a lot of stuff to get right and a lot of bodies to bring into line. It ain’t easy to do this, but most marketers do it every day of the week. Easier if you can look at a spread-sheet on the wall to keep reminding yourself of what you’re trying to do by when.

The I.T. dept is not the Marketing dept

The I.T. department may be a good place to have a cup of coffee and sure is more fun than the accounts department, cause at least they have quality games on their screens, but they are not marketers. They are boys /girls who elected to spend their lives in a fake world hiding from real people, instead of getting out there and touching, feeling the species homo sapien. As a marketer it’s vital to make sure any management above you does not confuse I.T. with marketing. They are distinctly different disciplines. You’re not trying to fix the bug in their computers. They shouldn’t make decisions relating to customers. Always ask ‘Relevant discipline?’

Since when did I.T. departments become creative agencies? The number of companies I see who have allowed their I.T. people to make their own ads for everything from outbound emails to web sites and everything else staggers me. No wonder the public think Australian advertising is crap. You can’t have untrained people doing critical work. Do you do your own eye-surgery? No. You get the best bloody eye-surgeon you can find.

Repeat your messages, patiently

Because you’re often dealing with stuff that’s new to people, you must take them through it lots of times. It helps to use visuals and to be patient, like a good school-teacher. I’m a big believer in white boards. It’s handy to keep a list of how many times you’ve explained something to certain people, in case a salary or budget review is in the offing.

Make em smile

With fractionalised media, we have fewer opportunities to build brands via storylines, to give our brands complex, appealing personalities. We are instead often trying to cram a whole brand’s ethos into a ten-second ad on an i-touch. So be slow and simple and quirky – entertainment is everything.

While every brand has life cycles, once invented, the media itself lives on. Artists thought the camera would destroy art. That video would kill the radio star. Nothing except the death of electricity itself will kill digital, it is beyond all.

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