Monday, March 02, 2009

Penalizing Mediocrity

Here’s the question that advertisers need to ask themselves. Is their advertising brilliant? Excellent? A-okay?

Or, just mediocre?

In most cases, I’m going to bet that the answer is the latter. And, if we’re all being completely honest, the advertiser needs to take a fair share of blame for this.

Unless, of course, the advertiser (after approving the concept from the agency) was completely hands-off, letting the agency do well what they are well paid to do.

Involve viewers in the commercial.

But as we all know, advertisers meddle in the production process and the end result is, well, mediocrity.

So, how do we go about changing this behavior?

What if there was some sort of financial incentive? Not just for the advertiser but for both the advertiser and the creative agency. In other words, some sort of incentive that would allow success to be rewarded and mediocrity to be penalized.

The problem lies in trying to get everyone to change the way they define success.

Traditionally, success equated to sales. And, we’re not suggesting that this needs to change. That said, we do believe that there is both short-term success and long-term success associated with a commercial.

Sales are the longer-term aspect. Short-term, it’s about getting people to watch the commercial so as to help create those sales.

A mediocre commercial would be one where viewers have expressed interest by clicking in to watch the spot and then losing interest well before the spot is finished.

Agencies used to argue that the only people they wanted to watch the commercial were those it was intended for. The spot, or course, was sold under the auspices that when targeted correctly, it would be watched all the way through by those it was targeted against.

In the past, viewer involvement wasn’t measurable. So we never really knew how well a commercial kept a viewer’s interest.

On the digital platform, viewers have the chance to self-select what interests them by opting-in. And then, to stay, or not stay, as long as they like.

Do you think that agencies will still stand by their position – a position that can now be verified through data – that when the targeted start to watch, they will watch the whole thing?

And, even more importantly, will they be willing to be paid on that basis?

Now we’re not talking the whole agency retainer here. That would be foolhardy. We’re just talking about the part of the fee it took to concept the commercial. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s $100,000. A couple of creative teams, a producer, the other odd hand here and there.

Would your agency be willing to put that fee on the line?

If those that opt-in to watch the commercial watch more of it rather than less, the agency would make more than $100,000. But if those same viewers end up watching less rather than more, the agency would make less than $100,000.

Let’s say the agency upside is $200,000. And, the downside, $25,000. What do you think? Would your agency play?

The devil’s handshake, of course, Mr. Advertiser, is that you can’t hold an agency financially accountable for what they don’t have control over. What you’re asking them to do is create a message that is so involving that viewers choose to watch more rather than less. If so, you’ll probably sell more of your product.

In return, you have to back off as the creative is being produced. Once you approve the concept that’s based on your strategy, your job is leave them to it.

Let the agency prove it’s worth. Or, not.

If the agency succeeds, i.e. creates more involvement in the commercial rather than less, chances are good that the advertiser will succeed as well. So, it is the proverbial win/win.

I know, the counter-argument goes something like this – “But my agency will create something really weird just to create involvement and not be worried about sales.”

C’mon. You really think so?

Remember, if sales don’t go up at the end of the year, the advertiser can still fire the agency. They are, after all, still accountable for the long-term success of the brand. What we’re talking about here is holding the agency accountable for one of the steps along the way to that success.

It’s also important to remember that the advertiser approves the script. A script that was based on an approved strategy. If the advertiser thinks the script was designed just to create involvement and not sales, then they shouldn’t approve it in the first place.

Will all agencies agree to work under this agreement? No way in hell. But my bet is that BBDO will. Goodby will. Crispin will. Wieden will. TBWA/Chiat Day will.

There are a few others that I have talked to that are also interested. Give me a shout and I’ll be happy to pass on their info.

In the meantime, advertisers need to take a good long look in the mirror. And decide for themselves how far they’re willing to go.

Accountability is out there.

The price? Trust.

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