Opinion: Why ads may benefit from the client’s discerning eye

Ostracising advertisers from the creative process frustrates their ability to offer judgment, which would enhance the standard of the work, Steve Harrison believes.

Ostracising advertisers from the creative process frustrates their

ability to offer judgment, which would enhance the standard of the work,

Steve Harrison believes.

Last month, Campaign invited two clients to do Private View. It raised

eyebrows not only because they seemed to make more sense than the famous

copywriter who also reviewed the work, but because no-one asks clients

what they think of creative work. Not Campaign, not the other trade

papers, and certainly not agencies.

Imagine a typical meeting between agency and client.

1) The agency spends the first ten minutes apologising for being 15

minutes late. 2) It spends the next ten minutes explaining why there is

a delay in del-ivering whatever was promised at the last meeting. 3) The

next 15 minutes are spent discussing an unforeseen problem that the

client wants the agency to sort out ASAP (this will be point two on the

next meeting’s agenda).

4) The cardboard is held up in front of the client, who tilts his head

to each side and says he’ll take it away with him and look at it


I exaggerate - but you’ll recognise the situation. Not enough time is

spent discussing the work.

Agencies should use every client meeting as an opportunity to talk about

ads because it focuses the client’s attention on the one thing the

agency can do and they cannot. It also enables the agency to understand

the client’s likes and dislikes and the client to master the art of

articulating those views.

If that sounds condescending, ask yourself how many clients actually

feel comfortable discussing creative work? Can they put their finger on

what is right or wrong and explain it to their agency?

Perhaps they could if agencies encouraged clients to see each campaign

not in isolation but as part of a bigger picture - to talk about the

trends that shape the work they see around them and to appreciate the

influence on that work of the great advertising of the past.

If that sounds highfallutin’, here’s an example from outside advertising

of how context can increase our understanding and enjoyment.

Suppose you turn on your TV and there’s a football game with a team in

red and a team in blue. Aside from the occasional brilliance from the

two smallest men on the pitch and a grey-haired chap, it’s a scrappy,

boring game.

Now you know it’s the FA cup final and the team in red is


You also know the grey-haired chap earns pounds 40,000 a game and the

little man is the Brazilian, Juninho, the second-best player in English


Both will leave Middlesbrough if they lose. The manager will be sacked,

the team will break up and its supporters, who’ve waited more than a

century for a single moment of triumph, will cry inconsolable,

photogenic tears.

The team in blue is Chelsea and we’ll see how it compares with that of

Osgood, Cooke and Hudson. Will Vialli emulate that other enigmatic

import, Ricky Villa, and score the dream Wembley goal?

Will the glory go to his compatriot - the other little man and the best

player in English football, Zola?

I could go on, as could any football bore. But that’s precisely the


If you understand the context, you enjoy the subject more.

It works for the theatre, cinema, drinking, eating, everything -

including advertising.

But understanding and enjoyment will come only if agencies encourage

their clients to look at ads and vocalise their opinions.

It starts with asking clients what they think of the commercial they saw

last night, or the mail-pack that dropped through their door this


It ends with better rapport, commun-ication and creative output - and a

whole lot more fun for all concerned.