Mike Fromowitz
May 2, 2013

Where are the Bernbach's, the Ogilvys, the Burnetts when you need them?

John Hegarty, co-founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), is known to speak his mind, and that he did in April on a live chat conducted via the U.K.'s The Guardian.

Where are the Bernbach's, the Ogilvys, the Burnetts when you need them?

"The ads have just got worse," he said. “Our work is not matching the quality of writing and thinking that's going into all those great TV productions."

Part of the problem with the quality of work today, he argued, is that there aren't enough people in leadership roles. "I think to re-invigorate creativity in our business, we need more creative people taking an active role in driving their agencies —taking responsibility. We need more of them doing it for the future."

Mr. Hegarty is right of course. One wonders, with all the remarkable new digital tools that promised to reach more people and make advertising “more meaningful”, why aren’t we doing more remarkable new work? The ultimate purpose of advertising, of course, is to "sell”. So shouldn’t today’s amazing digital technology improve the effectiveness of a sales message and allow for more creativity and innovation?

Perhaps digital technology can make a good idea work better, but for all those who think that it’s a substitute for an idea have got it all wrong. I think what Mr. Hegarty is getting at, is that these days, technology is mostly covering up for the lack of ideas. At the very same time, I’m certain he believes that when great technology is employed alongside a great idea, it can make for a brilliant advertising campaign. He is troubled by the fact that ad agencies today are counting too heavily on digital tech rather than the persuasive selling ideas that technology can deliver.

Not the agencies we use to know

As I see it, ad agencies are steadily moving from being manufacturing businesses (we manufacture ads) to being in the media distribution business.  Our purpose for being has always been the quality of our work. Are we to become a media planning and buying business with a creative director?

We all took for granted that advertising agencies were hubs for all things creative—that the creative work was the last thing we did. After all the research, planning, strategy, analysis, and countless meetings and deliberation, it was now up to the creative directors, the writers and the art directors to transform the blank canvas into a work of amazing art.

But it isn’t working out that way, at least not for John Hegarty. He sees the quality of the work getting worse, and he cites the fact that the ad industry no longer has enough people in leadership roles actively driving their agencies to be more creative and innovative.

Can’t argue with that! A lot of television commercials an YouTube videos I've viewed recently leave me scratching my head and wondering what the heck the people who made these things were thinking. Let alone, who was buying into this trash? Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like the problem is getting worse.

It seems that almost anything goes these days. Many creatives think that if the content shocks, it'll work. Never mind what kind of social values the message promotes or if it actually 'sells' the brand or not.

I think that many ad agencies have squandered their opportunity to re-build a solid ad industry. Ironically, they are giving clients more of what they want (more digital, more Facebook and Twitter, more Social media etc.) instead of what they need (great advertising ideas that integrate all media). Is it also a fact that today’s agency leaders are concerned with making more money and their survival, than they are in making better ads? Most of them see creativity as the last station on the assembly line.

Where are the visionaries?

The real problem with advertising today is that we don’t seem to have a generation of real advertising visionaries. No Bernbachs. No Ogilvys. No Burnetts. Thankfully, we do have someone like John Hegarty to remind us about how important big ideas really are, and how the rest is all technology.

The marketplace is no longer what it use to be. And ad agencies are no longer what they use to be either. Today, agency leaders need to spend less time pushing digital at their clients, and more time to pulling creativety to the front. Our creative minds need to be present at the beginning of a job. We need to be rethinking the product in collaboration with the client. We need to show our planning, strategy, media, analytical, and creative abilities on every aspect of the end product. Creativity must no longer be the last output in the chain. It must become the first input.

Mike Fromowitz


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