What does a real ad agency do?
A recent AdAge poll asks “Do you think marketing-services firms should avoid the word ‘agency’?”
With the poll still in progress 73% of people who have answered the question chose “embrace it” as their answer. Several felt compelled to leave a comment. One man named John, who obviously was of the minority who feel the term “ad agency” should be avoided, left the following comment along with his vote.
“I have espoused for over 20 years that ad agency never accurately depicted what we do or the value we bring—mostly because it just associates us with “doin’ ads”. At my agency we bring ideas that fall outside those lines—so much so that I’ve even had some newer clients question why we’d be bringing such thinking to them. “Because that’s what we are supposed to do…” I’d love to get a different handle or at least get the client world to understand that real agencies do exactly what we do—-think and act on the client’s business as if it were ours and our lives depended on it.”
These days there are a host of people in the marketing world who often find themselves thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And they’re not referring to TV ads. It’s things like a Titanium Cannes award-winning iPhone only car launch campaign headed up by Ginny Golden, Creative Director at AQKA in Washington.
According an article on Golden in AdAge “…brands will need to play heavily in more innovative spaces if they want to remain relevant,” says Golden who led a team to simply start a conversation on the high-end sales site Gilt Groupe about luxury and quality at a great price. The conversation resulted in sales of three different VW Jetta models on the site.
David Ogilvy’s legendary headline, “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock,” is lauded as one of the greatest selling devices in print advertising.
It ran in a time when people relied on print media to deliver timely, relevant and valuable information. Some of which informed their attitudes and opinions about the world around them, some of which informed their purchase decisions. This was also a time when brand stories were only told through a few media channels. Nowadays, there are countless channels. And the marketing problems we all deal with can’t be solved with old ways of thinking. It takes a pioneering spirit, guts and a willingness to fail to market to today’s consumer.
The word “agent” comes from the late 15th century Latin agentem meaning “effective, powerful” and the verb agere meaning “to set in motion, drive, lead, conduct.” and “any natural force or substance which produces a phenomenon.” Only later did the word become disambiguated to mean the much less evocative, “deputy, representative.”
The semantic roots of the word “agency” are precisely the kind of entity John and Ginny reflect in their views on what position the advertising agency plays in the game of commerce. By definition, the work done by advertising agencies should be nothing short of spectacular. It should literally result in some type of movement. Sadly, a lot of work that comes out of agencies doesn’t have this effect on the commercial environment. Usually because either the agency or the client (or both) don’t believe in the power of fresh thinking and risk taking. Fear of failure being the inhibitor of both.
So, back to the question at hand. Should the word “agency” be avoided or embraced?
Suffice it to say that if an agency doesn’t produce phenomenons, then it should embrace reality and avoid calling itself one.