A view from Claire Beale

An unhappy agency/client alliance works both ways

One of London's less decorated executive creative directors recently took me through a presentation of a major new ad campaign.

The likely effect of the ads on his client’s business seemed rather less important to him than the effect they might have on industry perceptions of his agency. On both fronts, I reckon he’ll be disappointed.

His campaign seemed designed to make a nice agency case study (or enhance the marketing director’s CV) rather than address the brand’s business issues. It was bloated with pointless additional content, online gimmicks and boring interactive devices. And there wasn’t a single clear message about the product itself, just a torturous strapline that was so oblique it was meaningless. So I asked the ECD what the ambitions for the campaign were. "We’re aiming for two million views on YouTube." It wasn’t an answer that his client’s chief executive would have been happy with.

None of this would be worth repeating publicly except in the light of last week’s IPA report on the state of client/agency relationships. When even those of us who love ad agencies sometimes wonder whether they’ve got their priorities right, no wonder their marketing paymasters have some doubts. Too often, agencies obsess about showcasing what they (think they) can do rather than concentrating on what they should be doing. With bastard new-business targets and precarious existing client relationships, of course agencies are keen to grasp every opportunity to showcase a breadth of cutting-edge skills, even at the expense of producing work designed to work. But when you then go and ask marketers what they think of agencies, and you get comments about their lack of commercial awareness, their failure to have a clear sense of ROI, their inability to understand the client world. Hardly surprising, huh? 

Of course, these are the same marketers who produce poor and unfocused briefs, research ideas until they’re simply bland, take a short-term view (safe in the knowledge that they’ll be off to another job well before the long term matters) and don’t have enough clout in their own company to fight for the right levels of marketing investment. OK, I’m painting a crude picture, but it’s clear that failure has many fathers.

Back to my optimistic ECD and his overblown but forgettable new campaign. I’ve met his client several times and I’m not surprised that this particular marketer has just bought an overblown and forgettable ad campaign. Their lack of talent doesn’t excuse the calibre of the agency’s work, of course, but it will have certainly contributed. I just checked the YouTube views for their campaign: 430,000, six weeks in.