Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Years ago when I started in the business, and even before, successful agencies were defined by not just the work they created but by the brands they built.

You could, in effect, play a version of word-association. Agency word-association.

If in 1980 you said “DDB,” the response would be “VW,” or maybe “Polaroid.”
If you said “Scali,” the typical response would be “Perdue,” or “Volvo.”
Ally…Federal Express or Saab or MCI.
NW Ayer…AT&T.
Lord Geller…IBM.
And so on.

Somehow, almost 40 years ago agencies did important work which defined both the clients they worked for and themselves. This is not because they adopted a “house style” that meant such work was the only kind they did. It’s because their work was big, consistent and ubiquitous. Accordingly accounts stayed at their agencies for many years, if not decades.

Today such agency account associations are, I think, hard to come by.

Of course, you link Weiden and Nike.
And Ogilvy and IBM.
Maybe there are a few others, but I’m hard-pressed to name them.

I’m not sure which is cause and which is effect. Have ad agencies become less important because they’re not doing work that is instrumental to the propagation of a brand? Or has the atomization of messaging been so deleterious that advertising’s ability to define the ethos of a brand has diminished?

Most agencies have a page on their sites with a display of the logos they work on. Many creatives organize their online portfolios in a similar manner. It all begs the question—what did you actually do for that brand to make it stand for something and stick in the public’s consciousness?

I worry that as an industry we have chased the ephemera of 360 while ignoring our primary role as brand definers.

We say this, that and the other thing. Often in lieu of saying what’s really important.

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