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Stop the creative ayatollahs and dictators!

With this blog, we risk losing the last friends we’ve kept in the world of traditional high cost advertising agencies. It’s not too serious…they’ll get over it and so will we!

What we’re going to describe is obviously biased. Clearly, all advertising agencies are not to be put “in the same basket”! Nonetheless, a number of advertisers have this type of relationship with their agencies on a daily basis; they know who they are…

What is fascinating for anyone who observes this world with a critical eye is the propensity of advertising agency practitioners to consider that they are “always right”. The creative team “knows” what the consumer wants to hear and knows better than anyone what’s happening in the consumer’s mind! Consequently, there is no question of putting forward the slightest criticism of the creative idea, the text or the layout used…or, worse, the size of the logo! (for, of course, the logo shown on the model is often minuscule and in a corner…)

Immediately, the “poor client” finds himself facing a creative team member who’s going to defend his project “tooth and nail” without tolerating the slightest change to his “creative work” (which should get nothing but applause and hurrahs). And what should be a normal discussion meeting of a few minutes between two partners becomes a psychodrama in which the client must beg to be kindly offered an alternative at the next meeting…(if it’s not asking too much?)
This incredible nerve is sometimes excusable, or at least a bit “explainable”, when you’re dealing with experienced creative directors who know the category of products in question particularly well. By dint of designing campaigns for various food brands, you end up knowing some of the effectiveness triggers for food advertising messages, and the same thing goes for cosmetics, cars etc.

The “hiccup” occurs when this attitude, on the part of the creative ayatollahs (by ayatollah, we mean “absolute rejection of criticism”), is not limited to a few seniors in the creative department but is a “culture” shared by most advertising agencies’ creative departments.

The consequence is, alas, predictable: how many times a day do you have the impression that you don’t understand anything in the TV commercials that you see on your screen?
How many times do you ask yourself who can these billboards, these classified ads, these commercials be aimed at? How many times do you say that, obviously, everything’s happening too quickly for you and that there, you were “really cast adrift”…Don’t worry, you’re not the only one to react this way to the TV commercials; there are hundreds and thousands of us, indeed millions, every night.

You know what the problem is? In a lot of advertising agencies, nobody gives a damn about you understanding the product or buying just about you talking about it and noticing it – which I am sorry does not lead to sales!

What counts is that the creative team who make these ads find them “faaan-taas-tic”!!!

Furthermore, when the prize winners’ season arrives, a deluge of awards (Grands Prix, Golden Lions, Silver Lions, Bronze Lions etc) rains down on this kind of impenetrable commercial from the Art Directors’ Club, the Cannes International Festival of Advertising Film and a few other “chocolate medals” issued by judging panels of professionals who engage in self-congratulation while “returning the favour” to each other from one year to the next.

Moreover, even creative teams are aware of the “impenetrable excess” they have sunk into to get a chance of coming back crowned from Cannes. In this respect, listen to what was said by a “star of French creative talent”, the secretary-general of the very influential Art Directors’ Club, Gabriel Gaultier, also CEO of the Leg agency, a very fashionable agency:

“French advertising’s conformism is especially prompted by the race for international awards, which is logical and not harmful in itself, just harmful in its consequences if we limit ourselves to this cryptic language which still works in Cannes.”  

Ah Mr Gaultier, we fully agree with you!

You think we exaggerate? Well, OK, a little but basically not all that much. You only have to look at the repeated results, year after year, of studies and investigations that measure the advertisers’ degree of satisfaction with advertising agencies to realise to what extent advertisers complain of the excesses and extravagances of advertising campaigns that are too often disconnected from consumer “realities”, expectations and levels of understanding.

The advertising agency sector has been in a deep and lasting credibility crisis vis-à-vis advertisers for many long years, and bit by bit advertisers are getting rid of entire areas of their agencies’ services: space buying, then media planning; more and more communication strategy is withdrawn from agencies and entrusted instead to large consulting firms (ie in the USA)…
The real question that has to be asked from now on is as follows:
how long will creative design remain in the hands of traditional advertising practitioners?


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