When do you say enough is enough?  When do you tell a client that their marketing strategy is wrong?  When do you oppose fraudulent copy testing?  When do you say, “your advertising will fail?”

In today’s economic environment, the answer is Not Frequently.  To challenge a client’s thinking is to risk the business.  The probable outcome of not objecting, unfortunately, is often the same.  Either take a stand and risk the business early, or see results not live up to client expectations and risk the business latter.

This is the situation I’m in today.  A client whose revenue is important to our agency is making countless bad decisions.  New management has changed strategic direction away from a successful retail approach to a vision of aspiration and grandeur inconsistent with the category, the product line and the way consumers purchase the prosaic products in question.

I’m a strong proponent of high level branding, integrated across all aspects of product development, design, marketing, advertising and social media.  Apple of course is the poster child, though very difficult if not impossible to replicate. (In branding courses I teach I dissuade students from discussing Apple until the last class because it’s such a red herring.)

Many clients don’t know what brand advertising looks like.  They ask for it, but when they see it they shy away in favor of a hybrid product-sell mishmash. They ask for “emotional connection” and then insist on long sequences of product demonstration. They ask talented copy writers to compose inspirational scripts and then cut all the poetry out, replacing it with copy no consumer could comprehend. The client I’m talking about guilelessly commented on the use of a word in a TV ad, “We’ve never used that word before. It might stand out.”

Then, discredited copy testing methodologies are employed to guide and “fix” the advertising.  The wrong things are tested.  Often even the findings are ignored in favor of personal opinion.

There was once a time when agencies said No.  Clients were often resigned.  Sometimes the agency was simply arrogant; other times right.  Years ago at DDB, Keith Reinhard offered clients “guaranteed results.”  Based on client objectives, if the agency had free reign to create the best advertising, without client interference, the agency guaranteed defined results.  If those results were not achieved, the agency would pay back all production and media expense.  To the best of my knowledge, no client ever accepted the deal.

It comes down to personal integrity and courage.  Bill Bernbach wrote, “More and more I have come to the conclusion that a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.”

Principles don’t pay the rent, but a life lived by principles might be worth living.

So when is enough enough?

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