Sunday, April 5, 2009

We sell. Or else... and JWT learns the hard way

A colleague of ours noted the closing of JWT's Chicago office with this comment: "It's a sad day for advertising and for agencies in general."

For those of you who aren't aware, JWT, formerly J. Walter Thompson, is one of the formerly great advertising agencies of the 20th century, and it announced on Friday that its Chicago office, a shadow of its once great self, would be shuttered in the near future, with their clients being afforded the "opportunity" to work with the New York office where the strategy of ruining the agency is masterminded.

A sad day? We disagree. The industry in general, and JWT in particular, is reaping what they have sown. The industry failed to follow its own advice or to stand for the values and business goals it espoused, to wit:
  • Building strong brands: J. Walter Thompson becomes JWT. Ogilvy & Mather becomes Ogilvy. BBDO Chicago becomes "Energy." Needham Harper & Steers and countless others go away entirely. Agency networks create "conflict agencies" with new names -- effectively admitting that their brands are meaningless, and rendering the differentiation between and among the original agencies irrelevant.
  • Entitling clients to charge a premium price for an otherwise parity product: The industry ate itself with a de facto price war that followed the M&A boom of the 1980s and 1990s, so anxious to find or keep new business (and service its debt) that it devalued its own product and destroyed its own economic model.
  • Hiring smart people who could help the client's business: The upshot of the price war was an end to the ability to attract or retain smart people. The agencies of today have a group of retreads at the top and a group of bouncy 25 year-olds who "like to work with people" working for them. The era of David Ogilvy's "gentlemen with brains" is long past.
  • Keeping up with new trends: Big agencies today are still wed to :30 and :15 television and full page spread print. They are fabulously weak in emerging media, web and interactive, and the other media trends that are rendering television and magazines (and especially newspapers) largely obsolete. They continue to focus on what they know rather than what their clients want and need.
Have a look at Ogilvy & Mather, in our opinion the best of the old line agencies (full disclosure: we worked there for seven years) and what it stood for and examine where they are today. Had they stuck to "We sell. Or else." as a real philosophy, they'd be the biggest, most successful, and most relevant agency in the world right now. They'd have evolved into a powerhouse of sales generation, measurement and accountability -- which is precisely what Chief Marketing Officers require of their partners.

Ogilvy's website has no traces of the old line Ogilvy beyond their trademark red. No cash register. No commitment to sales. In fact, their What We Do section notes "We work not for ourselves, not for the company, not even for the client. We work for Brands."


Agencies work for clients who need profitable sales to survive. Strong brands are necessary but not sufficient. Ogilvy used to stand for making the cash register ring. Their mandate should be building brands and SELLING PRODUCT. Someone forgot about that part.

The self-indulgent "creative" shitheads at the top have forgotten that advertising is about commerce, not art, and have rendered most of the old line agencies, once giants, shadows of themselves, and likely on the same path as JWT Chicago.

Mismanaged businesses and industries don't deserve to survive. No tears should be shed for stupidity, intellectual sloppiness, and the fallout thereof.

"We sell. Or else." was a brilliant reminder of what agencies should stand for. We see now what "Or else." really means.


Debra Snider said...

I'm reminded of Raymond Chandler's comment: ""Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside of an advertising agency."

sparxafire said...

I love it when ad agencies continue to say they "think outside the box." Nothing like using a trite and worn chestnut to express creativity. Right, Alanis?

Anonymous said...

Amen. So many 'creative types' forgot their job is to drive traffic to the store, regardless of the type of store.

And others are lost in the wonders of new technology without the underlying goal of making sales today.

And, finally thinking 'inside the box' with the constraints of limited resources is the essence of creativity . . . .

Justin said...

Quite right, although I think the dismissiveness of TV advertising is overplayed. Yes, it needs repair and reconfiguring as a medium, but it ain't going away. Hopefully the awards shows will get this message as well. The absence of good copywriting and the overabundance of design masturbation in all the award shows we go to is deflating. Even this year's CA Ad annual is a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

"the other media trends that are rendering television ... largely obsolete."

"Actually", television viewing hasn't declined. The big three networks no longer have the market share they once had but total TV viewing as high as ever. Not suggesting it's worth watching, but people do it anyway...

Kevin Horne said...

And here i thought stories like the JWT thing had become the proverbial tree falling in an empty forest...guess some people still care.

PS I assume as an independent, you don't plan on getting any sub work with these BDAs? Lots of oppty out there...

Anonymous said...

Well said! I especially liked your two points regarding "Hiring smart people who would help the client's business" & "Keeping up with new trends". These are key to the effective use of creativity to aid commerce and yet they go begging so often.

Advertising schools (especially here in South Africa) are churning out TFK's with no grasp of the core reason of advertising and that is to get results for the client. Instead, they scamper around the industry all starry-eyed , chasing awards for projects that look pretty but otherwise are not much else.

"We sell. Or else." Hell, that should be the mantra for every advertising agency.

Great post!


Teresa Buyikian said...

Amen. I am continually amused/shocked/saddened by the fact that BDAs still exist in some sort of 1982 vacuum...

Anonymous said...

I've walked the red carpet... I 100% agree.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I'm constantly frustrated by the tug-of-war between AEs and the big-headed top creatives insisting on misguided ideas because they just *can't* live without a One Show Pencil. Give me a break. I'm a designer and web developer because I want to provide the best solution and user experience - not to make some good-looking but irrelevant garbage to try to impress huge award show judges.

Louise said...

Completely and totally agree! The death of Advertising is a myth...advertising is alive and well, it is the Agencies that are dying.
The Agency model needs to die, in order for true transformation to begin.
Having worked at one of the BIG ones in the late 90's and even now working at smaller independent the story is still the same...the fight is still the same.
The clients NEED results. The creative leads want to masturbate their own egos with BIG IDEAS. The account staff has no desire to learn new models, explore new mediums or really understand what will help their clients sell.
The struggle continues at all levels.
We must hit the reset button now. We must recognize that there are whole new ways of understanding business needs, making strong connections to people we are trying to sway and delivering creative that is inspired.

John said...

Great evidence of an equally great insight.

I stumbled across the Ogilvy website awhile back and saw that same "brand" claim that they made. D*mn near lost my lunch... I couldn't believe it.

It was like opening the newspaper to find out one of the Beatles' kids grew up and decided to get into making rap music.