Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Can the advertising industry survive if it only recruits clones?

Jon Steel writes wisely in his book Truth, lies and advertising:  

“Advertising that fails to recognize the truth of a consumer´s relationship with a product or category, does not connect on a visceral level, and consequently does little or nothing to shift consumer perceptions or behaviour.”

So how do you connect on that visceral, deep level? How do you find the truth? I believe you must first to understand, then to influence and inspire.

Sadly enough, I meet too many agencies who are not doing proper research to find those hidden truths about the consumer. They instead rush into ideas generation before being in that open-minded and blank state, absorbing facts, statistics, thoughts and words about the market. They come up with cool things without having the respect to talk to anyone outside the office. Some say they have spoken to the consumers, but what they´ve really done is to run a focus group with the account managers two desks away. To understand Gen Y they shoot some questions to the receptionist, and to get the boomers they ask their grandpa.


I believe big parts of adland is too enclosed to deliver healthy campaigns. People are so stressed and flat out they don´t take in anyone who is different or can bring new perspectives, since these people can´t “be up and running” from day one. This goes from recruiting people to interview or talk with in focus groups to recruiting staff. Most of the people you deal with in agencies have started there at uni and stayed; very few have had careers outside the community. 

Does the incestuous way of recruiting lead to work that grabs people at their core? Will all those copies of each other, born and bred in the industry be able to think up new angles, be truly creative – or is the lack of fresh air making the room smell...?

Jon Steel writes about how he at the ad agency BMP worked with one Oxford graduate, a professional chess player and a musician. He was trained by a man whose degree was in aeronautical engineering, worked closely with a classics scholar (fluent in Greek and Latin) and when he had his own department, he hired a killer whale trainer, a litigation attorney, a Stanford MBA and a senator´s speech writer.

“All these people have very different views on the world and different approaches to problem solving. In building a planning department in an agency, it is essential to recruit for such diversity. Without it, planners are likely to think and behave in the same way, and that in turn will lead to identical solutions and stagnation.”

Perhaps the cloning in strategic planning is due to the fact that it is now a proper profession. When Steel started his career it was a fairly new phenomenon, but today planners are professional planners, not thinkers brought in from the outside world. They are trained to be planners from they were 20, rather than intuitively clever people who add spice to the creative industry. They are young, hungry, willing to work 24-7 – but lacking life experience and maturity. They might be amazing, and many of them are, but if they are all the same, what will happen...?

It is time to open the window and let the winds come in with new oxygen and relight the fire. 

I wish to see a marketing industry that stops and says: "re-start" and take a deep breathe. Wow, that could make it deliver to its peak. Don´t you agree?

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