The New Agency Diet | Adweek
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The New Agency Diet

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Michael Pollan's prolific investigation into food origination and production has influenced the ways that many of us view one of the most elemental aspects of our lives: what to eat. His latest book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, focuses on tangible "food rules" to help guide daily decisions. I've taken some of Pollan's rules and adapted them to how we, in the online advertising space, can apply them to how we do our jobs.

Food rule: Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Media rule: Just as you want to keep in mind that real food is always better for you, keep in mind that when you are advertising, the same obviousness will serve you well. Don't create ads that aren't recognizable to the people receiving them. Be transparent. If you'd like people to sign up for a special offer, ask them directly. It's not that people dislike advertising. In fact, a recent Harris Interactive study shows that 96 percent of online adults are willing to share e-mail addresses with brands for advertising purposes. When you sit down to eat a carrot, you expect to eat an actual carrot. When you interact with an ad, you should know exactly what you're getting into. State your value proposition clearly and make sure the consumer understands it.

Food rule: Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
Media rule: Keep it simple. Don't make things complicated for the sake of being complicated. How consumers create bonds with brands can seem overwhelming -- if you start thinking about the psychology. But you can back up and think about it as a simple process of communication with five steps/ingredients:

1. Find the people who want to hear from you through targeted advertising.
2. Send them interesting, relevant content to build trust.
3. Use e-mail to encourage them to befriend you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter.
4. Listen to what they have to say.
5. Respond kindly.

Food rule: Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
Media rule: Optimize regularly. Swap things out that don't work and don't let strategies sit on the proverbial shelf, lest your ideas expire (so to speak). Most marketers already adjust media tactics on a weekly or daily basis. And, according to a recent survey by Booz and Co., more than half of marketers interviewed said that media buying would look increasingly like the stock exchange in years to come -- with purchasing and optimization on a real-time, transparent, continuous basis.

Food rule: Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot.
Media rule: Make sure you understand the latest trends and incorporate them into your mix. The same Booz and Co. study states that 90 percent of marketers recognize the need to adapt and execute marketing much more quickly due to digital advances. Agencies should be right there with them.

Food rule: It's not just what you eat, but how you eat. Always leave the table a little hungry.
Media rule: Don't spend all of your money at once. Take a measured approach and leave room for innovation. You never know what will take off, and you need to budget for the unknown. To give just one example, eMarketer predicts mobile penetration to be near 100 percent by 2013. The next three years will see big things as companies develop new ways to engage consumers through their mobile devices. If you relegate your emerging media budget to the sidelines, you may miss out on valuable marketing opportunities.

Food rule: Families traditionally ate together around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love.
Media rule: Because digital advertising can be so quantifiable, there's always the risk that we let the numbers speak too much. It's absolutely essential that agencies share data with clients and have the analysis to back up recommendations. However, don't rely on sending reports to your clients by e-mail and talking by phone only when there's a clarifying question about the data. As much as travel budgets allow, have face-to-face meetings often. In the age of desktop sharing and smart phones, there's room for a gentle reminder that nothing replaces a firm handshake and a sandwich platter.

Food rule: Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., writes Pollan, 20 percent of food is eaten in the car.
Media rule: Don't buy advertising where you buy gasoline, either. Advertising is not purely functional; it's emotional. As an industry, we've evolved from a broadcast model to an engagement model. Advertisers are listening to what people say and responding in relevant ways -- and it's paying off. People are inviting brands into their daily lives through e-mail and social media; they are following companies they like on Twitter. Consumers welcome dialog, and you should take the time to have a proper one.

Zephrin Lasker is co-founder, CEO of Pontiflex.