PERSPECTIVE: Learn to sell again to help the ad industry redefine its purpose

Tim Delaney's Campaign essay (p16) on whether advertising has lost the art of selling will strike a nerve with many agency and client readers.

His observations have an emperor's new clothes quality. Did the dotcom, telecoms and tech boom flood the market with bottomless budgets, overnight launches and a cavalier attitude to communication? How many agencies question the value of advertising a message that is generic or me-too? How many agencies engage fully in the commercial issues faced by their clients? Does the level of technical polish that can be applied when presenting concepts discourage agencies and clients from interrogating the message itself?

Sadly, we all know the answers.

There is nothing more desirable in advertising than its ability to sell.

For many, the selling power of advertising is the single most urgent and fascinating debate in the business. The fact is there is still no foolproof way of quantifying the effect of an ad (apart from the direct response category) even though people have been trying for years to find this Holy Grail. We are firmly into subjective territory.

Who decides what is good and bad in advertising? Michael Winner, on the basis of his moronic, but no doubt effective, Esure ads? Tim Delaney, as the creator of many stunning campaigns that consumers like, remember and respond positively to? Millward Brown as a market leader in pre-testing and recall?

How wonderful it would be to be able to prove that a good advertisement sells more than a bad one, or even a so-so one. The good agencies would then win all the accounts and the bad ones would go out of business.

Delaney also calls for greater access to management in client companies.

Agencies bask in open, honest relationships with senior clients who may be around long after the marketing director has left and the consequences of their decisions have had an effect. The flip-side of this is that if agencies force the issue of client access, they have no excuse for not delivering.

In many respects, Delaney's article is a call for greater integrity all round. I'd like to add a similar plea. In recent weeks, Campaign has run a number of review stories amid some of the most vigorous denials we have ever received, only to have the same agency contacts phone us up on publication and admit the story was correct. This is an indication of the fear that now pervades a business with no growth to show for itself. Also, no agency has an obligation to tell the truth to prying reporters. But there is an ominous lack of common sense in not telling the truth when you have a fair idea you will have to do so in 24 hours. It only makes one think that if agencies are doing that they are likely to be involved in other disagreeable things too.