Art & Commerce: Dot.comedy of Errors

Agencies have lost track of their advertising mission
These are giddy days in the advertising biz! New dot.coms are jumping out of the woodwork, flush with cash from hyperventilating investors anxious to pour their savings into any rat hole that could become the next Amazon.
It’s the age of the supergeek, a renaissance for the digitally minded. Years ago, these left brainers would have inhabited accounting departments in windowless basements. Now, they travel in Gulfstreams–Nasdaq rock stars spending millions for advertising, like e-commerce junkies seeking a “brand recognition fix.”
I’m not complaining, as my agency coffers are growing fatter based on the bright ideas of those who understand HTML and the soul of a gigabyte. And I don’t object to environments that feature innovative people.
But I must admit a bit of trepidation when I look at the business platforms on which many dot.coms are built. Will billion-dollar market capitalizations for companies with business foundations that offer the world’s largest online selection of leather bar stools lead to disaster?
When the implosion occurs, the ad industry will be partially responsible. Certainly there are brilliant people leading brilliant companies partnered with brilliant ad agencies. But this is also a period of the “blind leading the blind,” as near-teenage technology CEOs with no business experience turn over massive ad budgets to equally inexperienced agency execs. The result: Creative advertising that’s impressive to the business but incomprehensible to the target consumer.
Nowhere was this more apparent then during the Super Bowl. With a few exceptions, most ads were self-indulgent fluff that will be viewed as contributing to the client’s demise. There seems to be an inside joke circulating in advertising circles: Let’s see how many dollars we can spend without telling consumers what we sell. Instead of advertising that motivates consumers to buy, we get poetry, a mumbling Ali, techno-philosophy–everything except information on the product or service being sold.
Many agencies have lost track of the essential goal of advertising. Clients give us money to make sure that customers give them money. They are not artistic patrons sent to subsidize our filmmaking fantasies, and they don’t have limitless resources. If we squander their advertising dollars on “overproduction,” they will go out of business.
Given their fast-paced world, tech clients require more strategy for their advertising than traditional ones. Expensive mass media thrown against the wall is often inappropriate for companies with a narrow
customer focus. Most dot.coms are essentially direct-response marketers. Creative should endeavor to explain what a company sells and why a consumer would want to buy, not focus on branding.
Because consumers now see 13,000 marketing messages a day, it’s bad business to assume they’ll rush to a Web site to view a spot featuring a man eating a live rat. It’s even less probable that seeing a man eating a live rat will inspire someone to purchase leather bar stools online.