Welcome to the oily rag age.

22 Jan

Yesterday, amidst the limp drizzle of a so-far so-so summer, I set out on my usual stroll home from work through Western Park. I admired the sunken monuments and the satisfying crunch of fallen leaves underfoot.

Thinking is something I tend to avoid these days unless it’s absolutely necessary. I mean, obviously there are situations in life and in the workplace that require some thought. What I’m talking about is the kind of thinking that begins nowhere in particular and follows no trajectory other than to perpetuate further unnecessary thought.

The reason I try and avoid this kind of thinking is that it almost always causes me to do foolish things. I have learned that my unbridled imagination is not a safe place to inhabit, and it’s certainly not a destination I wish to take others.

On this occassion I was pondering the role of advertising. More specifically, the job of the advertiser at its pure essence.
Eventually what I decided upon was this:

“Advertising is anything you say or do to alter somebody else’s perspective or behaviour towards a matter in which you have a financial interest.”

You may not agree entirely with that statement, but for argument’s sake, I think it fairly well sums up what I believe the job of an advertiser to be. My concern is that it is generally not the role of an advertising agency.

An advertising agency performs certain pre-determined functions to arrive at an end result, which in taking into consideration the full breadth of human potential to create new and interesting work, will always be doing exactly that. Producing a product.

If advertising is anything you say or do, why are marketers so married to form? Why must the result of an advertising agency’s output always be so tangible?

Of course, I know the answers to these questions. They revolve around billing structures and client expectations, and the fact that, like it or not, we are part of this beast that was born long before we got here and will survive long after we retire to our houses on Waiheke Island.

Or will it?

I wanted to share a story with you today about an incredible advertising campaign that happened here in Auckland. The best thing about it was that nobody saw it. It never existed.

It was a campaign for a prominent liquor brand enjoyed predominently at home by women aged 25-35. The goal was to lift sales of the brand by a few percentage points – a fair expectation and a decent challenge. Years of research indicated that the ritual that surrounded the drink would tend to become a habit in those that engaged in it. This was a very social drink, so the habit was often passed on to friends. Hence all that needed to happen to create a loyal customer base was to encourage part of the market to take up that particular habit.

Any ordinary advertising agency would hit the drawing board for a bit of strategy, which would turn into a brief, then some scribbles on a pad, evolving into a few witty lines, a few layouts, a mailer, a radio spot. That was probably about the extent of the budget.

Instead, the advertising agency decided to spend every cent of the budget running focus groups.

They ran enough focus groups to bring hundreds of young women flooding through the agency, answering a bunch of questions and leaving with a bottle of this liquor. They were asked to have a drink every night of the week, and to come back for more questions when the bottle ran out. I’m sure they shared the bottle with their girlfriends. At the second round of focus groups, the women answered another bunch of questions and left with another bottle of the stuff. By now, of course, they, and their nearest and dearest, had formed habits.

Six months later, the result? A fiercely loyal customer base and a sales increase of far more than a few measely percentage points.

Now that I’ve told you that story, I want to show you something else. It’s a campaign by a regular old advertising agency (McCann Erickson, Milan) for some kind of animal rights organisation. These print ads are all over the blogs at the moment as examples of ‘great work’. Right click/view image to enlarge and decide for yourself – is this great work?

My thoughts? All these ads succeed in doing, other than initially drawing my attention with their beautiful layouts, is make me want to go down to the forest and find cute animals to punch in the face. It’s the kind of drivel that is a direct result of the advertising agency process.

I’m not suggesting a modern alternative to traditional agency structures. I’m not suggesting that advertising agencies never get this marketing thing right, because occassionally I’ve seen it work and not cost everybody involved a ridiculous amount of money.

All I’m saying is, if you are currently relying on an advertising agency to pay your rent, aim to find a new career within the next five years. Because after that, they will be gone forever. The golden age of the advertising agency is truly over. I moot that we are currently experiencing its far less illustrious oily rag age.


2 Responses to “Welcome to the oily rag age.”


  1. Thinking time. « The Shortest Word. - October 8, 2010

    […] always results in new perspectives, or shines a new light on old perspectives such as these. Sometimes just a brief moment of solitude can help you remember what you used to believe before […]

  2. Links for AUT dudes. « The Shortest Word. - October 5, 2011

    […] A Big Rant About Advertising I Once Had, Which May Be Of Interest […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: