Advertising’s Problem: It’s Focused on Advertising, Not Solutions

By Matt Van Hoven 

Rather, it’s only focused on how advertising can solve problems. And when you’re the CMO of a multinational corporation like, say, Pepsi, you have a lot of problems that advertising can’t solve. Traditionally to address communication issues you’ve hired a variety of companies who all claim they can achieve the same goal (making you more money) through various methods. But these design and PR and advertising companies use old worn out tools, and despite employing really good mechanics, no mechanic no matter how talented can replace a head gasket with his teeth.

Last week’s PSFK conference was all about the past and the future. How general of them. There were some points made about being nimble, flexible, open and all that &#151 which got me thinking about how every agency says they’re that. But they’re not. As James Othmer explains in AdLand, retaining a client that wants to move on is like convincing your significant other not to leave you. And then your lover says (this is the review scenario), “OK, but before I take you back I’m going to spend the next six months meeting and sleeping with other people, some of them your friends,” etc etc. And then the bitch ends up with Jim, the douche bag that used to dead horse drunk girls in college.


What Othmer’s example fails to explain is that when the client moves on, no matter how good the agency, at some point they’ll probably move on again. History has shown this to be true: key players leave, needs change, relationships sour. Each subsequent agency ends up dealing with the same or similar problems that the last tried to or couldn’t solve, all the while making money and thinking they’re doing great. All the while wearing out their tools a little more.

They get worn out because consumers get bored with redundant, repeated messaging.

And so the idea to take away from this is that (and this is not my idea, but the person whose it is would not like to be outed) the agency that has the best chance of making it through the next 100 years is not an agency at all. It’s a group of people dedicated to solving problems for another group of people, so everyone can keep paying their rent. It’s your job to figure out what that means, but before you order another banner, spot, focus group or box of razor blades &#151 stop and think about whether or not messaging is what the group of people you’re trying to help needs. Or if maybe they should invest in training their customer service reps, or if they should donate to some charity. You can help them do it, creative agency people.

It’s hard, I know, but you’ll be OK. Rinse, repeat.

Note: I neglected to mention above that standard agency structure doesn’t really allow for this model. So I’m not really even talking about advertising then, but a sort of hybrid company that uses advertising in concert (or maybe not at all) with other business assets to accomplish a goal. So a company that achieves this methodology has a different mindset all together, and consciously breaks barriers to serve its client’s needs. I want to say “Think Different” here, but that’d give Chiat too much credit.

More: “Op Ed: Gareth Kay on the Great Lack of Trust (in Advertising)