Elephants in the boardroom: My love and hate of advertising
A view from Geoff Glendenning

Elephants in the boardroom: My love and hate of advertising

I love great ads, even more so nowadays when so much is arguably pretty uninspiring, writes Geoff Glendenning.

When a wonderfully crafted creative gem appears among the white noise it makes me feel proud to be in marketing. But even when an agency delivers great work it’s difficult to get elusive audiences to watch it as they switch channels on TV to avoid commercial breaks, block online, skip pre-rolls or change sites if the ad is embedded.

If I had to highlight my elephants in the room from a career in marketing these would be a good start.

Great ad but does it need to be seen so much?

If an agency produces a great piece of advertising the media strategy is still to show it as many times as they can reasonably convince their client to haemorrhage money on, with a rationale that the more times a consumer sees it the more impact it has.

I’ve never been convinced by this argument particularly as I believe there are often better ways to engage and entertain consumers with brand stories than high cost media. The candid revelations by former Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel at the 2015 ANA media conference in Miami truly put the cat among the pigeons when he stated: "They recommend or implement media that is off-strategy or off-target if it works for their financial gain."

It is important to have good paid-for exposure, and I’m not going to get into how accurate BARB audience figures are, but in my mind "too much of a good thing" might be considered a little ostentatious or even start to have the opposite effect.

Like the time when I worked briefly on the QE2 in the 80’s as a hospital attendant. I looked after sick passengers, which gave me unrestricted access to any food from any restaurant including the onboard bakery, which produced fresh chocolate éclairs every day.

Chocolate éclairs used to be one of my favourite cakes, but on one particular day I ate 10 in a row. One to five were pretty delicious, but when I got to 10 I’d hit the point of no return and haven’t eaten one since.

Failure to meet the clients’ expectations

In my early roles in advertising account management I experienced, endured and dreaded the moment when I had to present a finished commercial to a client knowing it had failed to deliver on the brilliant treatment and script presented months earlier.

This has only happened to me on a couple of occasions, and of course I presented it from the position that it was "great" and achieved all that was promised. If the client had questioned or hinted at the obvious failure to deliver on their expectations from the original treatment then the agency stance was that we were the experts and it was fabulous.

But what can you, as a client, do in this scenario. It’s that fight or flight moment. Do you reject or accept, or is there even an option?

Firstly you’d be left without an advertising campaign and potentially seen as having badly managed the relationship and failed in your role as a marketing director.

By rejecting it you would create a legal/contractual battle where the agency would maintain that they are the experts and undoubtedly produce qualitative research to prove it would be well received.

It is much easier, and safer, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the tailors and pretend the Emperor looks fine. But the client/agency relationship is now a little damaged and if you’re planning on remaining with your client-side business you’ll likely look to change agencies, unless the incumbent agency is so embedded that it would be difficult to move.

It’s also likely that you’re planning a career move within a few years so why rock the boat?

I’ve been in this scenario as a client. The first time I was too junior to have the authority or the courage to speak my mind. But on the second occasion I was a marketing director and I rejected the campaign at concept because it was off brief.

That campaign was then sold into the European office behind my back which not only damaged my client/agency relationship but caused me problems internally too. If I hadn’t been so head strong and simply went with the flow I’d probably still be there now. But I’ve never been a passive client and frankly if you are not leading and inspiring your agencies then you are arguably just an administrator.

From treatment to screen

Like the film industry, nobody wants to make a poor film, or in this case an advert, but it happens. The process is similar in that it is often long and involves many individuals and companies in the production process from treatment to play-out, where many things can go wrong from casting and performance to the directors interpretation, edit or even the choice of soundtrack.

It’s all a bit of a gamble, but with film the investors are aware of the high risks involved and can minimise their losses because of the way EIS investment is structured along with some "creative" accounting.

Businesses are also entering into a high risk venture with advertising. But clients aren’t investing their personal money and unlike film where there are transparent box office and home entertainment sales figures (apart from certain digital channels), we only have BARB audience data, which in my mind has never been accurate when it comes to advertising breaks.

So what are the solutions? With the rise of Social Media and brand credibility built through word of mouth and many media touch points, advertising is still a very powerful and effective way to support brand credibility and values, maintain a brands’ position and act as a "call to arms".

Things need to improve if advertising is to regain its importance and influence within the marketing mix. Rather than cut production budgets I believe brands should be spending more on production to allow their agencies to deliver great brand stories that will engage and entertain.

Advertising like the "good old days" will create hype, expectancy and encourage consumers to actively talk and promote the work across social media. But we shouldn’t relentlessly bombard consumers across paid-for media. Adopt a strategy that is more about a quality hit rather than quantity.

Showcase the commercial in cinema as the main media

Use sponsorship on TV to fully exploit the "sweet spot" break bumpers when there is a higher probability that your audience will be watching.

Distribution, management and promotion across social media can be far more effective than paid-for media.

By involving a client throughout the production it will be more of a collaborative process, with better buy-in and understanding.

Whatever the solution is, I believe agencies need to adapt better to the current market conditions with more honesty and transparency at the top of the list to maintain strong client/agency relationships, don’t exclude your client, and as a client you should demand and expect to be more involved.

On a final note, a 90-min indie feature film can be made for the same budget that is often spent on a 30 second commercial, a fact that should make brand owners consider their future advertising/content strategy as publishers of entertainment.

By Geoff Glendenning, a former top marketer at Sony PlayStation