In the past, agencies delivered a united brand concept. That was until
marketing got increasingly specialised. David Barker asks, where does
advertising go next?
I am a rare visitor to this typographical island. Not because I am shy,
or have nothing to say, but because I am in the business of selling
wisdom rather than giving it away.
The fact is, all around me agencies are surrendering their birthright.
The values of intellect, common sense and instinct in marketing are
becoming marginalised. So I felt the need to make a rallying cry.
My contention is that agencies, being bloated and sluggish, have
allowed the whole of the marketing function to break up into hundreds of
tiny pieces. Marketing has become a hospital ward full of specialists,
all clamouring to practise on the patient. Each sees the brand as a limb
to be bandaged, an organ to be treated or an ingrowing toenail to be put
right. As one client rather wistfully commented recently: ‘Marketing has
With the agency looking after only a tiny part of the brand
personification, control has now become the sole responsibility of the
This has led to a focus on integration, rather than the flexible and
instinctive understanding of brands that agencies used to have.
Creatively-led campaigns kept brands alive and relevant. Agencies must
go back to being the brand’s GP.
True, there are clients with the skills to provide the leadership and
vision for the brands. But even if you can find such people, how long
will they stay in that job? Eighteen months seems to be the agreed
average period among the people around here. So what went wrong and how
shall we put it right?
Creatives make excellent brand champions, steeped in a thorough
understanding of the brand - Robin Wight at WCRS for BMW and David
Abbott at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO for Sainsbury’s. On the client side
we have creative people such as Archie Norman for Asda and Richard
Branson for Virgin. For them, constant reappraisal and reinvigoration of
the brand is as natural as breathing.
This is the sole reason that Barker and Ralston has implemented the
policy of only having a few clients, because you cannot maintain passion
and motivation if your attention is spread too thinly.
What has happened in our industry is that technology has turned personal
skills and interests into specialisms. Not surprisingly, each of these
new ‘wonder areas’ has become an opportunity for a profitable standalone
business - media, direct mail, direct marketing, trade marketing,
design, packaging, marketing consultancy, the Internet, PR and sales
As these specialisms have sought to justify themselves, so they have
developed language and measurements of efficacy that have become even
more arcane and incomprehensible to the other specialists.
Trade bodies have sprung up to represent specialist interests. Many of
the specialists have sold themselves back to the agencies but still
remain as distant departments at arm’s length.
It is vital that agencies train the people who have an understanding of
the specialist tasks, rather than attempt to teach each of the technical
specialists the meaning of the brand.
It is the agency’s role to bring diversity together. Not by purchasing
the specialists and putting them all in one building, but by offering
sound advice and understanding of which specialist service delivers the
brand values most effectively.
Agencies must learn to admit that advertising is not always the best
solution, while being able to provide advice on what is. Advertising is
about a greater understanding of brands and humility. But it’s still got
to be about the idea.
David Barker is the chairman and creative director of Barker and Ralston