On Douchenozzle Patrol

Advertising prima donnas are such pricks.

Here are two unrelated situations that support my premise…

First, there’s a new study from consultancy Hoyt & Co. and marketing magazine The Hub that points to some serious cluelessness.

According to Media Daily News, Hoyt and Hub polled 30 major marketers, including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and ConAgra, as well as more than 50 advertising and shopper agencies combined.

Marketers polled for the study slammed brand agencies for not really caring about the shopper marketing sector or taking the time to learn it. Ninety percent of the marketers cited “lack of interest” on the part of brand agencies with regard to shopper marketing. Ninety-six percent of the marketers polled said they believed their brand agencies embraced the attitude that “we are strategic and you are not” in regard to shopper marketing firms and other so-called below-the-line type services.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s no secret that people who see themselves as “makers of TV” and “guardians of the culture” want little to do with “the audience.” These advertising auteurs certainly do not want to “touch” said audience, a.k.a. customers, at the point-of-sale or anywhere else, for that matter. That’s what sales is for.

Naturally, the arrogance embedded in this attitude pollutes the entire area with an acrid stench. After all, “the Mrs. Stouffer’s shopper” in Peoria and beyond is the client’s daily bread, and by extension, the agency’s. But creative people on the account don’t think like that, do they? No, they concern themselves purely with the brand-sponsored artistic statement they’re about to make.

Okay, let’s jump now to the second supporting point. I said advertising prima donnas are such pricks and I want to leave no doubt.

My friend Bob Hoffman of Hoffman/Lewis is being honored tonight as “Ad Person of the Year” by the San Francisco chapter of the American Advertising Federation. I’m sure Bob’s polishing up his speech, but what, if anything, might he say about the pack of anonymous critics on The San Francisco Egotist? They have a less honorary point of view to share regarding Bob and his agency.

The criticism boils down to Bob not understanding digital at all, nor wanting to learn–a fact that makes his blog full of anti-digital rants tough to take. Plus, the work Hoffman/Lewis turns in for McDonald’s and Toyota doesn’t light up the screen like work from some of the better shops in town.

Bob’s a tough New Yorker. I believe the words will sting a bit–he is also human–but then they’ll lose whatever bite they had. Whatever you think about Hoffman/Lewis’ portfolio, or Bob’s rage against the digital machine, there’s still plenty to honor in a man who writes well, is pleasant to be around and who also happens to employ 100 well paid people, who themselves may be quite grateful for Bob’s contributions.

The common thread here is how corrosive agency culture is.

We’ve all been there, right? Perhaps you are there now. Perhaps you are about to throw a fit? Or worse, you might be stuck in one of those “I can’t speak my truth in this environment (without it costing me dearly)” binds. I feel for you, and I feel for me, for I too continue to do the agency dance, not as a staffer, but my contractor status does not shield me from the underlying reality–that we’re operating in a highly competitive, cutthroat habitat, with our backs up. That we are often afraid that we will never be properly recognized or rewarded for the generous talents we possess.

With even the tiniest bit of perspective, it would be easy to see that it’s just advertising. And if it’s just advertising, why stress? Why work until 10 p.m.? Why leave anonymous vents on blogs? Why insist that you are better, smarter and more deserving than the other guy?

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. Parkertthomas says:

    “It’s just advertising” is such a cop out. 

    When presented with a mediocre idea by your creative team, do you just say “it’s just advertising” and let it go? Of course not. You strive for the best and never settle.

    So then why even bother with awards if we’re just going to pass them out to every nice guy who employs a lot of people? Awards only mean something if they’re given for EXCEPTIONAL things. I don’t know Bob but I looked at his agency’s site and didn’t see much of note.

    • You are right Parkertthomas, I could have come up with a stronger conclusion for this piece, even though it is fair to say the work we do in advertising doesn’t compare to the work done by teachers, doctors, even journalists, as far as its impact and overall benefit to society.

      Regarding the need to strive for, and recognize the exceptional, I am for it. However, I don’t believe in award shows as standard bearers. When you are made to buy your awards, and then game the system to win, the shows lose all legitimacy. 

      Also, we have a higher bar to clear in advertising — we must connect with people and motivate them to buy. What the Adverati deems worthy is meaningless compared to what consumers do, or do not do, with the messages conveyed. Take Subway’s “five dollah” jingle that’s on air right now. It’s not going to win at Cannes, but it is catchy and people are singing it under their breath, on their way to the nearest Subway sandwich shop. 

      Who among us is recognizing that excellence? There’s one awards show that considers effectiveness, and about 50 more that could care less. 

      All of which brings me back to Hoffman/Lewis and the work they do for regional Toyota dealers and McDonald’s franchises. These are retail accounts, and retailers want things from their advertising that brand managers at the parent company may, or may not, want. Like a singular focus on product, or price. That’s not an excuse for turning in uninspiring work, but it is a real world challenge. 

      Finally, an additional note on the value of perspective. There are lots of ways to be in the advertising business. Letting an award show dictate your value is one popular model. Keeping your client happy at all costs, with no concern for peer love is another, equally valid, model. And there are several shades of gray turtleneck between each of those extremes. 

      • Parkertthomas says:

        David, I agree that what really matter is meeting client objectives and sales. But the Oscars don’t give Best Picture to the film that grossed the most money.

        Ad Person of the Year denotes someone who has dome something excellent in 2011 for our local industry. I just don’t see that Bob meets that criteria. Yes, they probably helped Toyota and McDonalds meet sales goals. But this isn’t an award about client goals anymore than the Oscars are about box office receipts. This is an award about what someone has done for OUR industry this year.

        Totally agree that award shows are over valued and don’t necessarily reflect the overall importance of our jobs. Awards does not a career make. But they are what they are – and devaluing them by ignoring the reason for the award in the first place is never a good way to go. If it becomes simply “Hey, this guy’s been around a long time (and on our board) so let’s give it to him,” then why give out the award at all?