Researchers and Agency Execs Debate Why So Many Ads Suck

By Patrick Coffee 

For once, industry observers and AgencySpy readers may have found a point of agreement: a fair share of creative work is not very good.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course. 76 percent of the “124 advertising executives” surveyed by CRN International (a company that specializes in radio) this summer said that the quality of today’s ads is either “good” or “excellent.” 22 percent said the work is “fair” while only about 1.7 percent called it “poor.” This group of 124 was a mix of agency people and brand marketers.

The numbers dropped, however, when respondents were asked about the work being done to promote their own brands, with only 50 percent calling it “excellent.” It was a mixed bag, really, as 5.25 percent of this group called the work “poor” and 13.15 percent said it was exceptional.


The fact that many companies aren’t so happy with their own ads isn’t exactly a revelation. But it’s interesting to note that agencies and clients had different reactions when asked to pinpoint the reasons for this dissatisfaction.

37 percent of brand managers said the main thing inhibiting successful creative is “a lack of proper corporate culture” (?!) while 30 percent attributed problems to an inability to “properly understand what resonates with today’s consumers.” Agency execs, however, were far more likely to cite the latter (46 percent) than the former (24 percent). It would seem that, in a way, agency folks have confirmed Pepsi marketer Brad Jakeman’s complaint about white dudes telling him how to market to women.

In terms of which sorts of ads actually work, most respondents chose the “informative” qualifier over “funny” and “touching.” Agency people, however, were three times as likely to say that humor is the key to successful advertising. This, again, is not surprising.

So which brand’s ads are most effective?

Here’s a chart from ABX or Advertising Benchmark Index, which “tested” hundreds of spots that aired during a given week. Their research seems to conclude that Target and Applebee’s have more successful campaigns than any other companies for some reason…and that Coors Light, AT&T and AmEx just aren’t cutting it.


ABX’s Gary Getto writes that “creative effectiveness has not improved with 47% of all ads still rated ‘fair to poor,'” and a separate chart claims that–going by industry–finance and alcohol brands generally have the worst ads while packaged goods, tech and restaurants have the best.

The CRN paper also has some interesting quotes from the client side:

  • “Quantity and production work have replaced an emphasis on creative.”
  • “A lot of ads try to be too cute and miss the mark on creating a memorable message.”

…and the agency side:

  • “Clients that allow creative to reach the edge of engagement are succeeding. Excellent creative sells.”
  • “There seems to be a diminishing commitment to brand building. The program du jour takes precedence over alignment of brand, experience and messaging.”
  • “Too much focus on winning awards and not enough focus on selling product.”

These almost read like our own comments but with better spelling and fewer cuss words.

Most of our readers will probably dismiss these studies immediately, but they did give us a good excuse to use another ridiculous stock image.