Big Value: Small and Medium Ad Agencies

Swystun Communications was commissioned by a private equity firm to examine small and medium sized advertising agencies. Our client gave permission to share a portion of the study including trends and insights that challenge the commonly and historically accepted perception of these players. The report’s contents are:

Section 1: Advantages | Disadvantages

Section 2: Challenges | Opportunities

Section 3: The Big Learning

Section 4: Insights

Section 5: In Conclusion

We found that owners and leaders of smaller agencies are bullish on their future. They are recognizing the change in their value proposition but need to creatively rebrand to take advantage. Size of agencies will always be a consideration but new models that deliver scale without comprising quality will be disruptive competitors.

Download the report: SC_BigValue.

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Authors with Marketing Roots

Many famous authors got their start writing copy for ad agencies, positioning products and services, and finding ways to convince consumers to try and buy. Branding and marketing has always been about storytelling. It is a compelling narrative that first links consumer and brand. The ability to spin a yarn with credibility is an admirable talent that few possess. Among now-famous-authors who got their start promoting brands are:

Salman Rushdie

An Ogilvy & Mather alum who penned the Daily Mirror’s tagline, “Look into the Mirror tomorrow—you’ll like what you see.” He also produced “Naughty. But nice.” for a cream cakes company and “Irresistibubble” for Aero, which remains the candy-bar’s slogan in certain markets.

standardoilTheodore Seuss Geisel A.K.A Dr. Seuss

The famous children’s author and illustrator drew and wrote for brands far before ‘green eggs and ham’. Beer companies received his unique treatment and soon Ford, NBC, GE, Flit, and Standard Oil were among his clients. The “Moto-raspus” for Essolube five star motor oil is immediately recognizable as a Dr. Seuss creation as are the boys in this 1932 ad for Standard Oil. Read more

Eminently Quotable

These quotes carry amazing lessons…

“Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.” John Ward

“Advertising did not invent the products or services which called forth jobs, nor inspire the pioneering courage that built factories and machinery to produce them. What advertising did was to stimulate ambition and desire – the craving to process, which is the strongest incentive to produce. Mass production made possible mass economies, reflected in declining prices, until the product that began as the luxury of the rich became the possession of every family that was willing to work.” Bruce Barton

Prada

“It used to be that people needed products to survive. Now products need people to survive.” Nicholas Johnson

“In marketing there are those who satisfy needs and those who create wants.” Juan Carlos Castillo

“The talent for discovering the unique and marketable characteristics of a product and service is a designer’s most valuable asset.” Primo Angeli

“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” Robert Wieder

Clutter

“Genuine ignorance is profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity and open-mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas.” John Dewey

“Strategy is not a lengthy action plan – it is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.” Von Clausewitz

“We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization.” Petronious

“The universal current conviction that one deserves better, that one is employed beneath one’s station. Everyone dreaming of the higher job he or she has so richly merited, while botching the one he is lucky to have. And as the waiter dreams his dream of upward mobility, he spills the soup downward into your lap.” John Simon

Tie

 

Jeff in Advertising Age

What Digital Agency Clients, Staff and Leaders Say in Private
These Shops Market Themselves as Hip, but They’re Actually Pretty Old-School
By: Jeff Swystun

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Digital agencies enjoy a reputation of being cool, cutting-edge and creative. They even have a bit of a bad-boy persona because they talk about challenging the status quo. Their offices are hip and their employees are hipsters. They are positioned as the future of marketing and advertising.

In the past year I have consulted to six digital agencies on branding and marketing. Between them they operate in over 12 countries, employing over 2,000. The results are revealing. First up is the dissatisfaction among employees. This cannot be attributed solely to the stereotypical millennial, because,many who shared these experiences were over 35. Comments included:

“We lecture clients about technology when our time and expense sheets are manual.”

“Fun perks promised are always sacrificed because of proposals or client work. I understand business is business, but don’t promise it if you only hand it out when convenient.” Read more

It is Tough to Be Original

I have always wanted to be an investigative journalist and blow a story wide open. Something on par with Watergate would suffice. Then I really thought I had my own ‘Deep Throat’ in the form of Netflix. This provider of on-demand Internet streaming media distributes content that is an archival treasure trove of pop culture.

This is especially true in the eclectic and never-ending seasons of television shows it offers. As a subscriber you can toggle bewitched-cartoon-openingbetween Quantum Leap and Knight Rider and Fawlty Towers. Or you can enter the worlds of Dexter, American Dad, Lost, The Rockford Files, and McMillan & Wife. Not to mention Portlandia, Twin Peaks, Charlie’s Angels, and Breaking Bad.

There is even a little show called Mad Men. The charmer of critics and frequent award winner has legions of fans. These acolytes wait for Sunday nights to witness the shagging and drinking shenanigans of Don, Roger, Peggy, Pete, and Joan. Then they gather around the water cooler at work on Mondays to ask, “Did you see it?” Read more

Don’t Forget the Details

Social media is an ongoing experiment. It holds great promise for marketing, yet still perplexes many companies. However, ignoring it is like someone in the year 2000 saying “we don’t need a website”. The challenging (and fun) part of social media has been figuring out if, where, and how a company should play. The variables are a veritable Rubik’s Cube of choices.

I enjoy working through these strategic struggles with my employers and clients. But the fact is many companies fail to anticipate the demands of the required day-to-day details. And this is why countless efforts crash or disappoint. Shocking too, is how little this is mentioned by the experts who prefer to tantalize with metrics of social media’s use.

I am assisting a North American law firm on their marketing strategy, a subset being social media. The work has retaught me a lesson: if you choose to go for something, really go for it. To their credit, this law firm has decided to pursue, for their industry, an aggressive social media strategy. Read more

Nonprofits Should Not Depress

Did you know that the World WildLife Fund’s mission is “to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature”? You probably did because over the last several years this organization has grown in influence and now touts 5 million supporters and 5,000 staff. It also appears to sport a serious advertising and awareness budget. The problem is everything it communicates is a problem. I do not care how clever the advertising is…the net result suggests that we humans are just awful and should feel extremely guilty.

The WWF’s current messaging is analogous to the famous Christian Children’s Fund now ChildFund. A few decades back their ubiquitous advertisements featuring sad, malnourished children with spokesperson Sally Struthers initially worked by raising awareness. But after a time they became preachy, judgemental, and downright depressing. People began to change the channel as their own problems took precedent or they became inured to the imagery and cause. Read more

You Had Me At Gin

I appreciate cool packaging but in the case of liquor am usually quite happy just with the liquid.

BOMBAY-SAPPHIRE_Electro_MediumNow Bombay Sapphire is being distributed a “The Electro Global Travel Retail pack”, a limited edition gift pack using electroluminescence. Electroluminescent ink is used to light up the Bombay Sapphire design, accentuating the motto, “Infused with Imagination”.

The current is conducted from the battery on the base of the pack which uses a hidden mechanical switch to activate it. When the package is picked up, the current runs through the various pathways illuminating them sequentially thereby creating a cascading effect. Each cycle of animation is 18 seconds long at which point the sequence stops until activated again.

 

Bernbach, Burnett, & Ogilvy on Social Media

The advertising greats who dominated Madison Avenue in the 1950’s and 1960’s left the industry an incredible legacy. Among the assets passed down and still passionately referenced are their quotes. Taken in the aggregate these bon mots represent key philosophies of business and communication. It is amazing how timeless these musings and lessons remain. Yet, much has changed in the practice of delivering compelling communications.

“Advertising” is too confining a label, consumers play an ever increasing role in how brands define themselves, technologies proliferate at ever greater speeds and we are firmly in the grip and promise of social media. This led me to wonder what the leaders of Madison Avenue would think about social media. So I combed through their thoughts to find relevance and application.

Read more

High Symbolic Value

Leading brands have a crystal clear understanding of how they interact with customers. The desired experience is planned and anticipated as much as possible. But perhaps their most admirable quality is the brand’s ability to learn from each customer interaction and adjust accordingly. One segment that does this well is luxury. Luxury brands are premised on offering high symbolic value to a select segment that responds to status, exclusivity, and perceived quality far more than price.

Luxury brands have long employed the notion of the Customer Journey enjoying a more longitudinal and continuous view of their experiential touch points. And, of course, they inherently leverage Word-of-Mouth (WOM) to build the cache associated with precious and limited goods. Read more