Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Squeeze a few fruit

I was listening to the radio the other day and the story was about giant American food stores entering the Australian market. To get the predictable ‘I think it’s outrageous’ comment, they contacted a local fruit and vege shop owner called Nick Mashadis.

To everyone’s surprise Nick thought the arrival of mega food barns would be a good thing. Far from being negative about the idea he thought it would be great for his business and shoppers over all.

The reason? Simple choice.

Nick reasoned that shoppers would try the new places then try his stores and make up their own minds. He was confident that he had what people wanted: quality product, product tailored to local needs and preferences, and outstanding service. He even believed he could compete on price, as his rental overheads were so much lower.

This little surprise story reminded me of the choice facing marketers when they need advertising help. Currently most FMCG clients have ‘an agency’. They have been encouraged since advertising began to make a lifelong attachment to a big agency. (I once met a very senior marketer who was conducting her first and probably only agency pitch)

The theory is of course that the agency is a consistent ‘brand expert’. This idea had some merit 20 years ago, when agency staff stayed put for longer than 18 months, and when the client had a lot less involvement in marketing communications.

But today the argument is a little hollow and starts to smack of a simple (and understandable) need to hang on to business at all costs. ‘We’ve always done it this way’ is no longer an excuse in the public service. It should never be an excuse in the world of advertising.

Large agencies need the ‘wedded for life’, or as ‘long as possible’, model to perpetuate. New ideas and models are mercilessly derided by an industry that ironically prides itself on creativity. Mark Buckman, Marketing Director of the Commonwealth Bank, broke with tradition by going offshore for creative. He used a US ad agency for the ‘Brand‘ part of the Comm Bank business. The Ad Industry’s reaction was predictably shrill and obviously self-serving. I wrote a letter to AdNews congratulating Mark on his ‘creativity’.

I’m not saying trash the system if you’re happy and it works for you. But out of the hundreds of marketers I’ve talked to over the years I can remember one, that’s right one, who was 100% happy with his agency’s creative, service and price.

I know that Head Office usually prefers/demands the same agency worldwide. Again if this works well - great. All I’m saying is that there is always choice available, even within a contracted relationship.

The most obvious example is the booming ‘branded format advertising’ phenomenon. Big marketers with rusted on agencies have managed to separate a tactical/short term strategy and use it successfully.

Other examples include quite large marketing companies briefing one-off ‘tactical’ projects out to smaller creative agencies. This usually starts as a simple cost saving measure. But clients are often surprised by the quality and service they also receive.

Project work has many other benefits to the marketer. It gives the opportunity to sample other ways of doing things and of meeting other creatives and suppliers. And just as importantly, working with other companies allows you to build up a ‘feel’ for what things really cost.

Most marketers have no idea of the enormous depth of creative firepower available to them. And why would they? Your average client might have heard of 10 agencies, because that’s all they read about in the trade press.

But did you know B&T lists 794 Australian companies who call themselves Advertising Agencies? Even if half are kidding themselves, that’s still a lot to choose from.

So go on, take Nick the fruiterer’s advice. Try a few shops and squeeze a few fruit. You might be pleasantly surprised.


Craig said...

Couldn't agree more...BUT have to say the Comm Banks campaign has to be one of the worst I have seen...idiots briefing idiots and maintaining the relationship and solving their own problems... it's
a parody of the Office done to entertain consumers and just ends up confusing everyone ... surely after the first appraisal of work, the US based agency should have been sacked for ineptitude and lack
of understanding or appreciation of the client and his / her brand???

I struggle to get anything positive out of the campaign

Tony Richardson said...

Interesting that you say that. It doesn't do much for me either.

I don't really care that Americans don't 'get' a lot of Australian culture. And that 'insight' has absolutely nothing to do with my choice of bank.

But my spies tell me the Comm Bank folk are overjoyed to be noticed again.

Maybe like Oscar Wilde they think, the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.

craig said...

I cant believe that they consider such tripe worthy... ah well... as I saw on a website the other day ... "the air at the top of the pointy end of the triangle is often quite rarified ... which is why thinking is often dulled and the better ideas come from below where the work is done!!

In the Gordon Gekko world we have been living in, I would think it ideal if the Comm Bank went back to its origins and became a bank with a
vision to create "Common Wealth"