Self-Help Ads

NEW YORK The print ad from New York independent agency StrawberryFrog features two T-shirts—one with a generic “logo,” the other with a frog wearing a beret, also known as the agency’s logo—next to several blocks of text. The headline: “Could your brand pass the tee shirt test?” The copy then asks if anyone would want to voluntarily wear your company’s logo.

The StrawberryFrog ad, the first of 10 in an ongoing campaign, is for a new client: Itself.

It comes close on the heels of the self-congratulatory print ad that the agency ran after it lost out to San Francisco-based Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in the Hyundai pitch earlier this year. That ad depicted a red frog on a dinosaur’s head and read, “Why we celebrated on the day we lost the $600 million Hyundai pitch. We had an amazing idea.”

What makes StrawberryFrog’s self-promotion so interesting is that it’s rare these days to see an agency toot its own horn in the U.S. (the exception being those awards show-related ads congratulating staffers or clients). While fairly common outside the States, it’s been decades since such traditional advertising was the norm here.

“In the 1950s and ’60s it was common for emerging agencies to advertise to differentiate themselves,” says Scott Goodson, CEO and CCO of StrawberryFrog. “Even the established agencies did it in trade publications and business magazines. As we’re entering the new advertising creative renaissance, we thought it would be good to differentiate ourselves.”

For its part, Hyundai appreciated StrawberryFrog’s moxie in doing a post-pitch ad. “If they believe in what they’re doing they should advertise it,” says Joel Ewanick, vp of marketing at Hyundai. StrawberryFrog, he adds, “was a real contender. They’re maximizing that effort.”

StrawberryFrog is not the only agency to advertise itself in the U.S. in recent years. Up until about five years ago, New York-based Della Femina Rothschild Jeary took out ads in The New York Times when it landed a big client. “There’s nothing better than an agency announcing new business; that gets people talking and saying they’re hot,” says Jerry Della Femina, chairman and CEO, adding that they stopped running them because a new crop of people “wanted to go in a diferent direction.”

Della Femina predicts we’ll see more ads like StrawberryFrog’s: “It takes an agency to suddenly bring it back and have people say, ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’ We’re in a business full of followers, not leaders.”

New York-based Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners ran an ad in Adweek in April when the movie Perfect Stranger was released, as the agency is mentioned throughout the film. “We’ve always been shameless about self-promotion,” says Richard Kirshenbaum, co-chair of the agency. “It’s the ultimate irony that we’re in the advertising business … and we help promote our clients, and most agencies have no idea how to promote themselves.”

As for StrawberryFrog, its latest ad is not unlike the black-and-white, text-heavy print execution from Chiat/Day in the late ’70s and early ’80s; they both feature lots of text and speak to why they think they can get the job done.

Back then, Chiat/Day would advertise in national trade publications aimed at specific industries. While trying to win the Yamaha account, for instance, Chiat/Day ran an ad with a photo of agency people—including a shirtless Lee Clow— around a Yamaha motorcycle. The copy read, in part, “Chiat/Day wants to join a motorcycle gang,” and promised that if Yamaha’s sales didn’t increase, the agency would refund a portion of its media commissions. Chiat/Day won Yamaha and held it for more than a decade.

“It was the role of advertising to clarify that we were a bonafide agency capable of working on major accounts. At the time Los Angeles was not a major ad place,” explains Laurie Coots, worldwide CMO at TBWA.

“If you were to look at candidates for advertising today,” she adds, “it’s those that are different, unusually small or new. Now, you either use advertising to celebrate your people or celebrate your clients.”

At such national awards as the Clios and the Art Directors Club, there are self-promotion categories, although none are reserved solely for entries about agencies. (Some regional awards, however, honor agency self-promotion.)

In the age of nontraditional media, it seems quaint that StrawberryFrog chose the print medium to get its message out. “We decided to target the ad to the c-suite,” says Goodson of both the traditional ad and his magazine choices, Fortune and Business 2.0.

Another form of self-promotion, of course, is blogging. New York-based Naked Communications set up last month for employee bloggers, as well as point to interesting things on the Internet. “The modest objective is that we live a naked life like we recommend to our clients, and a side benefit will be that we build a community along the way,” says Paul Woolmington, founding partner. “We’ve got stuff like photos of our meetings, which to us might be deeply interesting, but to others might be boring.”