Please The Customer And The Client Will Come Along

Mark Fenske speaking to his students at VCU Ad Center:

I’m concerned that you may make the mistake of thinking that work which “answers the client’s problem” as written in the brief is work that has done the job of advertising and is therefore good work. Answering the client’s problem is only part of the job a good ad does, and not at all the most important part.
If all you care about is the client, that’s who will listen. Care about the audience sitting out there more than the client and you’ll have a chance at connecting with that audience. Don’t, and you’re a shill, that’s all.

Naturally, this insight has been uttered before. Kirshenbaum and Bond made it a central theme in Under the Radar, for instance.

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. While I appreciate Fenske relaying this message to his students, that speech should really be given to clients. How many of them listen more to their customers than internal business plans or stock price goals?
    I recall one product launch which bounced for two years between three agencies. Not once did consumers show any interest in the ads tested. Everyone on the agency side knew what consumers were truly saying: they didn’t care about the product. Yet the client refused to listen. They went to market supported by a campaign they wrote. The product tanked. Millions of dollars were wasted. And never once did the client admit their agencies were right – and their business plan, wrong.
    Worse yet? The clients continued to turn a deaf ear to their consumers. In their minds, the product was simply “ahead of its time”.