Charles Wigley
Nov 13, 2017

Are we baking the cake, or just icing it?

If an agency's role is going to be limited, maybe we could waste less time in pitches, writes Charles Wigley of BBH.

Are we baking the cake, or just icing it?

It's a question I increasingly think we should ask at the start of pitches.

At this stage briefing documents are filled with talk of brand leadership, disruption and the like.

This, of course, is music to the ears of any agency worth its salt. It's a chance to change things, to improve the category, to move the whole game on. Good grief, even (but whisper it quietly) to leave some kind of advertising legacy. Many bold statements are made and brand vision statements crafted.

Then real work begins.

And it rapidly becomes clear that brand X isn't really in the business of changing the world, or challenging the category or even evolving itself.

And brand does not lead the business. In fact, the business is getting on absolutely fine, thank you. Making lots of cash without any necessity for marketing to actually change anything.

Marketing's job in this instance is to manage the development of advertising. To create the icing around a cake that's already been baked.

Because that is enough to make money in many categories in Asia at the moment. And it's a perfectly valid role for agencies and advertising (in fact the original role).

It's just that it might be better to get to that realisation quicker. Otherwise too much time is wasted on discussion about change that will never actually happen.

When competitive pressures start to make marketing here more "like a knife fight in a telephone box" (as Adam Morgan once memorably described it) then real product and brand evolution are far more likely to take place.

Until then it's probably best to keep those bags of icing sugar handy.

Charles Wigley is chairman of BBH Asia Pacific.


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