Creative Analysis

In the 1985 Western Silverado, there’s a scene where Kevin Kline’s gambler character moseys up to a saloon and spies a horse recently stolen from him tied to a post. He starts a ruckus with the no-account thief who took the animal, and it’s up to the local law, a U.S. Army captain, to decide who is the rightful owner.

Kline attempts to prove his claim by enthusiastically kissing the beast on the mouth—and getting kissed back just as enthusiastically.

“Can’t you see this horse loves me?” he asks the captain.

“Had a girl do that to me once,” drawls the officer, clearly unconvinced. “It didn’t make her my wife.”

I offer up this tall tale as a metaphor for one of the most provocative findings in the first Adweek/Morgan Anderson Consulting Client Survey, which is analyzed in detail beginning on page 38 of this issue.

While the concept of unbundling is accepted by clients, they still think of media shops as specialist resources, not trusted partners in overall strategy.

Darn it if the creative agency isn’t still the partner advertisers turn to—by an overwhelming margin—when the business is branding (the marketing kind).

Back on the frontier, the horse serves as a four-legged symbol for brand strategy. Kline stands in for a media agency, the captain is the client and the creative shop is the nag’s current owner. (Just coincidence that a thief represents creatives in this analogy, of course.)

The point is, as Morgan Anderson managing principal Arthur Anderson points out in the analysis, there is a perception-reality problem at work here.

Advertisers turn to creatives because that’s who they have always turned to for counsel on branding strategy—not because media shops can’t do it.

Media agencies have done a very good job of convincing clients that unbundling is a good thing. But media agencies will not advance to the next level in influence until advertisers consider them true marketing partners in the broadest sense of the term.

Touting research resources isn’t going to ensure a happy ending. The survey also shows that media shops’ proclivity for using research as a competitive weapon doesn’t resonate with most clients.

The answer lies in all the new bullets media agencies have added to their gunbelts: modeling, cultural anthropology and the like.

Those are the kinds of tools that will enable media agencies to offer branding solutions beyond their historical planning and buying duties. It will give them credibility as a client’s first choice for strategic counsel.

Media shops ought to focus even more than they already are on adding these strategic bullets to their arsenal.

Because before Silverado fades to black, Kline and his buddies have to fight off a whole town filled with horse thieves.

And Kline needs every bullet he has before he gets to ride off into the sunset on the back of his beloved bay.