Invite Yourself To The Client’s Private Party

Adrian Ho at Zeus Jones is reflecting on leading firms like Google that “don’t really use advertising agencies and instead rely upon innovative business ideas to communicate their benefits and values to their customers.”
Ho also mentions Alex Bogusky’s 2004 claim that “everything is an ad” and wonders how ad people are coping with that news.

Rather than creating “communications objects” that help to grow a client’s business, agencies who champion the idea that “everything is an ad” should instead be helping to magnify and extend the communication and marketing effects of the client’s own business objects. This is a pretty unpopular perspective in creative and production departments because it means that you start with the client’s idea rather than starting with something created from scratch. Perhaps this is is why most agencies aren’t advocating it.

I don’t know that it’s a “not created here” battle. I think 99.9% of us are busy working to sell the communications plans and executions we’re paid by our clients to create. Jumping into this new pool where “innovative business ideas” are king, is a bit scary and many of us likely question whether we belong in this pool.
What do you think, is product development (to give one example) an area where ad people belong?
[via Brian Morrissey]

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Matt Bergantino says:

    I think the future (or rather the cutting-edge present) for agencies is in branded utilities. Marketing with a utilitarian purpose. Check out Organic’s Urban Mixtape as an example.

  2. While I’m not sure what he means by “business objects” (paper clips? staplers? websites?), I do think he has a point in that agencies could help clients with ideas they (the clients) have already developed vs. just offering brand new things. Still, it sounds like an oversimplified argument. Sometimes you do have to start from scratch to create something truly innovative. In fact, I imagine many amazing products started out with that kind of a blank slate approach, no? Besides, all any client has to do is say, “This is how we want you to work with us,” and most (hell, ALL) agencies will do it as long as it’s profitable. The reason most agencies don’t “advocate” this approach is simple: agencies are very insecure when it comes to how the outside world sees them. They all want to appear to have advertising “figured out” in some unique way so they can present well in new business pitches. (We’re different. We’re holistic. We’re contagious. We resonate. We call it Strategi-plan-ization, etc.) Smart clients see through this semantic BS, of course, but many don’t, so the last thing most agencies will ever say is, “You lead us, Mrs. Client.” becasue they’re afraid it makes them look like they don’t have some pseudo-scientific, proprietary approach to justify their fees and set them apart from the others. Silly and sad, but true. Hopefully more clients will start demanding better. Only when clients refuse to buy the BS will agencies stop trying to sell it.

  3. This is about more than branded utility, it’s about marketing pros saying we need a hand in making whatever product or service we’re charged with supporting better.

  4. Hi David,
    Wasn’t really meant to be a not created here battle, more of an observation about the dangers of ad people presenting ideas about how to run a client’s business under the banner of everything is an ad. I saw it go horribly wrong a lot of times.
    On the other side I’ve seen lots of examples where clients do something brilliant business-wise that generates a lot of buzz and press, because everything is an ad.
    Seems to me that the odds favour clients in this equation. They start with something that’s good for their business and then think about what it communicates. Too often ad folk think about what they want to communicate first and then whether it’s good for the business.
    Happy Birthday!

  5. I think it shows that we need to develop our skills as creative communicators rather than “makers of ads.” Everything is not an ad, but everything a company does is a chance to communicate compellingly.
    Also, whether you’re doing an ad or not, the first question you should ask when evaluating ideas is “is this idea good for the client’s business?” that just seems like Communication 101 to me, but what do i know.