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December 13, 2011
What Advertising Can Learn From...Well, Advertising
 
People are always suggesting that advertising needs to learn from other industries or organizations or TV shows or whatever catches their fancy. But seldom, if ever, do we stop to think that advertising could learn from advertising.
 
There’s a lot that advertising can learn from advertising.
 
Did you know that back in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, before there was an Internet or mobile marketing, that brands were being built? Yeah, I know! How could that be?
 
Well, hold on to your under bloomers!
 
Not only were brands being built, but they were also talking with consumers through print, radio, TV, direct mail, and outdoor advertising!
 
Unbelievable! Right, I know. But it’s true.
 
Think:
How Volvo owned safety.
Wendy’s asking, Where’s The Beef?
Remember the Army challenging us to Be All You Can Be.
Nike told us to Just Do It.
Coke wanted to teach the world to sing because Coke was The Real Thing.
Mercedes and Cadillac represented quality and luxury.
Master Lock was invincible.
Everything wanted to be the Porsche of something.
Alka-Seltzer had us believing in the power of Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz.
We don’t make copies, we Xerox things.
A Diamond Is Forever and should cost two months’ worth of our salary.
Let’s not forget how hard Avis is trying.
 
And there are plenty more that could be listed. Many of these aren’t simply taglines; it’s what we thought of these brands for years — it is the brand story they told us.
 
How did advertising accomplish this without the benefits of the Internet or digital?
 
Simple: it talked to people, not at them. Advertising created conversations that spoke to people. I understand that right here is where I lose many of you because you believe advertising did not talk to people. You can’t believe that conversations were happening long before Al Gore “invented” the Internet. Well, the conversations did happen.
 
Somewhere along the way, advertising professionals forgot this or chose to ignore what had been done in the past. We began to embrace a train of thought that said advertising was broken or didn’t work as well as it should. That happens when something new comes along that is supposed to be better, or at least make us better, at what we do. Instantly all our old toys don’t work as well or aren’t cool.
 
Thinking like that is a mistake. We ignored what was right in front of us — advertising works.
 
Advertising has a rich history that we can all learn from. You see, today more than any other time, we are in a pitch battle for the attention and minds of consumers, and we are losing. Not because people don’t want to hear what we have to say but because we are not saying anything worth hearing.
 
We’re focused on making sure things are tested and measured and dialed in — we are so in tune with the client — that we have forgotten that we aren’t talking to the client or numbers, we are speaking to living, breathing, feeling, illogical, and irrational human beings.
 
I know, I know — that’s not true with your work or your agency! You’re building conversations left and right.
 
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to call “bull crap” on that.
 
Look at the work we produce. It has no soul. It barely speaks to anyone. Too much of the work looks and sounds alike. Take a look at websites: they should be hubs where people can come and learn about a brand and talk with it, but they are nothing but digital brochures. I know that the idea behind social is to have conversations where people are, but why can’t the website be part of the conversation? Why can’t websites and social media work together to have a conversation with people? Why do people have to go to Twitter or Facebook to get real-time customer service responses that they can’t get from a client’s website? Why aren’t the sites engaging and alive?
 
Don’t say we can’t do it. For decades, advertising professionals did it with print, TV, radio, outdoor, and direct mail. There is a lot we can learn from advertising. For instance:
 
Art direction and copywriting matters.
Make the work attractive and give it a freaking voice!
 
Just because you can type on a keyboard or hold a pencil does not make you an art director or writer. There is a skill to what we do and it is about time people respected that. Practice your craft, hone your skills, and learn your job. If you run an agency, require more of your creative; push them to think deeper and harder about what they are working on and defend them for doing so with the client. Grow a “set” as the leader of your agency, and stop just collecting paychecks.
 
Account service is more than taking orders.
There is more to account service than telling the client, “YES!”
 
Learn that you do not represent the client at the agency, you represent the agency with the client, and behave accordingly. It takes more than a pretty face and attractive body parts to do this job correctly. Learn to present and sell; get comfortable with overcoming objections and building relationships. Stop taking the clients at what they requested and start talking to them on a more regular basis. Bring them suggestions and ideas. Work with the creatives to develop solutions for things the client has not asked for and work to get those things in front of the client. Once again, to the leader of the agency, empower your account people to be more than “Yes people.” Make them into account service folks and require that they learn to champion the agency — stop thinking of your account team as your sales force.
 
Advertising can be both creative and effective.
I know this comes as a shock to many, but it has always been our legacy that we produce beautiful work that speaks to people. It’s how advertising has grown into the industry that it is. Do you really think we got here by accident; that clients have been paying us for decades to create work that did not help build a brand’s success story? Are you saying that clients are inept at business?
 
This whole “advertising has been running amok, without measurements or having to prove anything” is pure crap.
 
Clients have always held us responsible for a huge portion of the sales. The problem is that internally, there has been a group of advertising folks attempting to make advertising more of a science, forgetting that we are dealing with human beings, who at any time can be irrational or illogical in their selection of what they like or dislike.     
 
We need to get over ourselves.
 
The majority of the brands today that we are chasing after or admiring were built decades ago by a group of advertising professionals that we are quick to dismiss because they don’t know the latest and greatest “whatever” as well as some younger folks do. That may be true, but they do know how to build and sustain a brand through time. They know how to use art direction and copywriting to weave a brand story that is still alive and strong today. They recognize that a strong and talented account service team can build relationships that last for years and position the agency as a partner and not a vendor.
 
It is only natural to think that there is nothing to be learned from the “old folks.” I’m simply cautioning that in our disdain for everything advertising, we are missing some very valuable insights into who we are and what we can really be. Before we learn from anyone else, maybe we should invest a little time in understanding who we are and where we come from as an industry.
 
Doing this advertising thing may look easy, but to do it well requires a set of real skills and talent — lots of talent. No one will respect advertising until we learn to respect ourselves.

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Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising, out of the big city of Columbia, S.C. He is on Twitter as @dereklwalker
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