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But I first had to take care of the world I know February 8, 2010

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, business strategy.
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Budd Carrell

Bud Caddell, as surrounded by Post-It notes.

So nothing like 2 hours in customs and then more hours sitting on the runway because it’s snowing at your destination, but it gave me time to read through this thought-provoking article from Bud Caddell on the future of the ad agency.

First off, it’s great; it doesn’t claim all the answers but it probes in all the right places. And for whatever reason I was thinking about this a lot over the weekend, and you should totally read Bud’s piece first, because this is my take, and there are a bunch of synergies.

1. We do not need more web shops.

Now, I say that with a lot of friends running their own places, so let me qualify that statement. Most companies only need some simple hosting, a WordPress install, and should spend the majority of their money on design. To saddle people with cumbersome, proprietary content-management systems and code re-written from the ground up when someone else’s plugin will do exactly what you want is morally bankrupt.

On top of that, it can be done more cheaply and to a reasonable level of quality for around US$20 an hour. Sad for some, but it is the modern equivalent of the industrial revolution. And the money is best spent elsewhere.

2. This is “elsewhere”.

Content. Content content content. I recently did an audit for a company and came out of it with the exact thing I expected: they didn’t give their customers anything other than coupons, so subsequently that’s all they talked about.

3. Everything gets easier.

This is the biggest truism, and it exists as uch inside the ad industry as it does outside it: everything, I do not care what it is, will get easier. It will happen in manufacturing as much as it will happen with technology, so companies whose existence relies on technology have but one choice: to make problems that are difficult easy for the people facing them.

Agencies with big technical production capabilities need to send the work out to be done more cheaply, take the best and brightest they have and remake that department as a research & development arm. There is no reason Foursquare could not have been created by Zagat’s; but nobody was working on that kind of problem. Not hard enough anyway. The digital shops need to go back to their engineering roots; they need to sit a bunch of curious minds from across the board together and be inventors; that work is far too important to leave to agencies – and they’re not going to do it anyway.

4. No points for second place.

One of Al Ries22 Immutable Laws of Marketing said it was better to be first in a new category than 2nd in an old one; that is basically positioning but it speaks to a fundamental truth: marketers need to stop inventing problems for products to solve and focus on creating products that get back to the existing ones, which I suppose just echoes what I said in point 1 more generally. And particularly in the CPG space, they need to udnerstand the conversation around the product is always more interesting than the product itself (e.g. baby formula or parenthood? Which is more interesting?).

5. What we used to call digital will lead, and it won’t survive without traditional talent.

Bear with me: it doesn’t make sense to talk about “digital” anymore, it’s too ubiquitous to mean anything. What we’re really looking at is a kind of “curation of connections”, which happen in various places. Great strategists can lead that, but they’re going to need content produced – and occasionally a short, branded spot or a still image. One thing traditional advertising still has over new media is the ability to tell a story in a heartbeat; we’ll always need that sort of eye, but there’s no longer any reason for it to lead, its importance is decreasing by the day.

6. This only applies to the companies that don’t create true value.

Apple, Zappos, and the other handful of brands that create products and services so compelling they don’t need to market the way everyone else does are going to continue to chart their own course. Long term, companies are better off focusing on that than trying to advertise their way into people’s wallets, as that stops working the second the ad stops.

So, in summation: the agency will be replaced by strategists defining touch points and curating content for those points, and that can be a 3rd party or it can be a savvy brand manager. Regardless of who it is, a lot of people currently in agency land are simply not capable of that. It isn’t a sell, it’s leading by being meaningful, and advertising just isn’t good at that.

Web shops who want to remain web shops need to use the cheapest technologies available, and make their own approach more turn-key. If they don’t, they will lose out to overseas suppliers who can do it all cheaper (and likely faster). The whole notion of a “digital” agency needs to be ditched, we’re talking user-experience and connections, regardless of whether that happens virtually or in the real world. The shops who don’t want to do that need to be inventors.

And brands that don’t want to deal with either need to create products so compelling and in-tune with their customer base they largely sell themselves. Advertising was always the price you paid for being boring, and shortly it may not be a price you can pay at all.

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Why Australian GQ sucks – part 4: Audience & Competitors May 19, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing, work/life.
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I may very well be the only straight man in Australia with this opinion, but I’m not interested in buying magazines with girls flaunting themselves on the front cover. If I want that, I can go to almost any bar on a Friday night and see pretty young things who can’t hold their pre-mixed vodka. And if for some bizarre reason I’m really desperate to see girls tarted up and air-brushed to within an inch of their cosmetically enhanced lives, I’ll google “porn star” and see what I find. In fairness, British GQ are as guilty of this as anyone, and Australian GQ actually have Guy Pearce on the cover for their April/May issue.

Regardless, put a stunning David Bailey portrait on the cover (better yet, an Australian photographer – Robert Paul Mee has a lousy website but is brilliant) and I’m 10 times more likely to buy than a bikini-clad actress. I realise I have now put myself in an even smaller subset of beings who know a David Bailey photograph on sight, but nobody said this was going to be easy.

The first part of this is something I don’t have an easy answer to, but I think about it a lot, and that’s we need a new definition of masculinity because the old one isn’t working, and while that is something that informs this argument, it is itself a separate post (and one I look forward to).

The second part of this is looking at the space GQ exists in. Australian GQ competes on the shelves of newsagents and Borders against British GQ, American GQ (only marginally better than ours, but full of white-bread Hilfiger and Polo ads, therefore beyond saving) and Esquire (here the US version is actually better than the English one) among others.

It does not compete (or at least it shouldn’t) with Ralph, FHM or any other “lad” magazine purporting to appeal to stereotypical male culture. Who writes this drivel? Who sees enough value in its pages to shell out for it? FHM are certainly aware of how low-brow they are, to the extent that they’ve started releasing dedicated Style issues in an attempt to reach people like me. Sorry guys, your brand doesn’t stretch in that direction, no matter how hard you pull (pun intended).

Does the GQ man lust after models in magazines or does the GQ man party with them on his private yacht? Right. So get them off the cover and let’s replace it with some men we can actually respect and who have earned the spot. British GQ used to run “Britain’s leading quality men’s monthly” across their masthead, and while you could argue you shouldn’t have to say it, they at least knew where they were headed.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish up by looking at online.

Image courtesy of Proserpina with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors (you are here)
  5. Online