I think it was Jeff Goodby who used to write about asking his cab drivers what commercials they liked. It was a good way of taking the pulse of the people for someone living in the middle of adland. So, recently I decided to do the same with my Uber drivers.
“What commercials did you like?”
“None of them,” said the first driver.
“They’re all horrible…no offense,” offered another.
Sadly, it’s pretty much true. Agencies today are so caught up in chasing the next big thing that the industry is letting the craft of creating commercials that people like, remember, talk about and share simply die off. Most advertising agencies are now focusing the majority of their creativity and effort on innovations, social stunts and PR pushes. And while all are pieces of the puzzle, these same agencies are making endless video assets for TV and social media–their marquee product, viewed by millions--that not only aren't good, they’re rarely even noticed.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen data provide marketers with more information than ever to help guide their decisions. But somewhere in the middle of all this progress, emphasis has been taken off of the creative output itself. Agencies are using data and strategy to win and retain clients, while neglecting the very product they provide.
So, what exactly are marketers supposed to do? Knowing that video continues to be the most powerful and effective engagement tool at scale, why is it so challenging and rare for an agency to make a good commercial these days?
The solution is for clients to begin doing what great creative agencies have always done: follow the talent.
Agencies don’t “get hot” and suddenly become good at making commercials for a few years and then forget how to do it. The individuals that think up and make the ads arrive, make some do good work, and eventually depart.
A commercial is usually the creative product of three individuals. A copywriter and art director team working under a creative director. And creative directors who can consistently produce effective commercials that people not only notice, but actually like and remember are rare.
If you’re hiring an ad agency in 2019, your focus should be on the people who will be thinking up and making the product you’re paying for. Evaluating the output of an entire ad agency that you are considering giving your business to would be incredibly misleading. Just because that agency won some Lions and Effies in the past doesn’t mean those same talented people will be working on your business, or are even still at the agency.
Take a look at the career output of the individual creative directors who would be working on your business, and not just at what they’ve made at their current agency. Is their work good? If so, is it good consistently? Be leery if their work was only good at one previous stop in their career, or if they haven’t done good work in recent years. Both are telling red flags. Also, you should meet them. And not just during a pitch, but to decide if their agency should even be included in the first place.
Of course, an agency’s larger team is important as well. But remember, a larger team doesn’t think up and go make the ads you run. A couple of creatives do.
It’s not unlike a really excellent restaurant. It's a really good chef, not a convincing wait staff that talks you into liking bad food. And remember, you’re the one paying for dinner.