“The Pitch” demonstrates what’s wrong with advertising

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

9 April 2012

The process of choosing an agency is often inane

The dirty little secret of advertising is that most advertising agencies get it wrong. There are a myriad of reasons for this (for one, agencies are more process-driven than purpose-driven than they admit), but largest among them is the process by which they are hired by prospective clients. Case in point. After the latest episode of Mad Men, AMC aired a sneak peek of its reality series, The Pitch. In it, an actual pitch for business was presented between ad agencies McKinney and WDCW for Subway and its breakfast menu.

“But I’ll start with this: This process of judging based on spec work assumes that the agency has the answers when it doesn’t even know the questions.”


The PitchThe two agencies were briefed that the target audience was 18-24 – then they went at it. Each brought back a campaign for the Subway marketers to rate, with those marketers choosing the winner that got the business.

Sadly, this is how most advertising agencies are chosen. There are so many problems with this process I don’t even know where to start. The sheer clueless of why this process doesn’t work is mind-boggling.

But I’ll start with this: This process of judging based on spec work assumes that the agency has the answers when it doesn’t even know the questions. The process is so inside-out that it never considers the hurdles and problems that exist in the market and there’s no word from the consumers themselves. It’s basically just a few people in the room – thinking only of what means most to the client, not the consumer – and coming up with an idea that’s usually judged by its level of creativity.

Not by what will steal market share.

This is why most advertising has the same old messages, the same old tone and generally doesn’t even work. (WDCW was invited to the pitch because of its experience with Quiznos, even though WDCW and Subway admit that WDCW’s Quiznos campaign failed.)

It’s also the reason why so much advertising is the same.

How does the agency know what are the switching triggers, the hurdles to adoption, the belief systems that drive behavior (precepts) without asking those questions, quantitatively, of the consumer? How do they uncover the correct strategic bent?

The answer is, they aren’t allowed. There is lip service to the voice of the customer. In reality, though, agencies are judged based on creativity (who has the best joke, so to speak) rather than what is strategically right (based, of course, on Subway’s own assumptions).

Instead, companies and brands should choose agencies based on the way they uncover meaning, past work and the ability to ask the right questions rather than random spec creative.

It’s the same insanity when companies change agencies thinking that another agency will have better creative that will work than their current agency when they’re all good. (That’s another dirty little secret: Companies pick agencies who tell them what they want to hear.)

This is the reason why advertising today is so unpersuasive. It rarely has a point of view. It rarely is an aspirational self-reflection of the customer. And it rarely is positioned against the competition. The Pitch just demonstrates the inanity of this process.

You can’t put all the blame on the agencies themselves, though. The companies choosing them have trained them to be this way.

See more posts in the following related categories: ad agencies choosing an ad agency The Pitch


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