'Consumer Reports' For Ad Agencies

Used to be you could count on the value of a big brand name when selecting an agency. Want cartoon animals for a new cereal? Go to Leo Burnett. Got a funky foreign car? Go to DDB. However, the Groupon debacle that made Crispin Porter + Bogusky the latest poster child for mismarketing raises the question: can you really believe an agency's own branding? If the goal of advertising is to embarrass your client, then the Crispi are clearly the geniuses they purport to be. But is this the kind of outcome that companies are looking for? It's time the marketing world had its own Consumer Reports, so that potential clients can get a little kiss before they get screwed.

How many people would buy a car today without looking at professional assessments, as well as those from other consumers? The information is easy to find, but that's not the case in marketing. This allows agencies to trade heavily on their brand names, not their track records.

For example, when a salesperson (excuse me -- Account Executive) from Edelman goes into a new business meeting, they will point to being PR Week's Agency of the Year, but they won't discuss their notorious WalMarting Across America fake blog debacle. Did Edelman fire all the geniuses behind that one, like a car company dumping a bunch of leaky brake calipers? Probably not -- so what guarantee does a client have that they won't be receiving the same "defective parts" during their engagement?



And if size matters, isn't legendary DraftFCB -- the largest ad agency in Chicago -- a sure bet? You might think so, but State Farm Insurance didn't: they fired the agency less than a year after hiring them. The agency has lost most of its work at Kraft Foods; and S.C. Johnson & Son Co., their oldest client, is searching for a new agency. These facts just aren't easy to find on the DraftFCB Web site, with all the clutter on industry awards and self-administered accolades for creative genius. It just seems that a brand name doesn't mean what it used to.

The solution to this problem is easy; we could call it AdSumer Reports, an assessable database on all the pluses and minuses of all the ad agencies in the country -- from the Kias to the Escalades. This database would feature information that any potential client should be interested in but would probably never be able to find: What campaigns cost and what they returned in revenue; how many times have campaigns caused clients to publicly apologize; how many clients has an agency lost for failing to deliver sales; how many times has the agency come forward in the media and taken responsibility for failed or embarrassing campaigns? Agencies could be rated on "Worth the extra money," "Best buy," "Value," and "Avoid at all costs," just to keep things simple.

Marketing is not a licensed profession, like healthcare, plumbing or cosmetology -- so anything goes. Consequently, the problem with this proposed system is that it involves invoking the word that is tantamount to a silver cross or a garlic wreath for most agency people: accountability. Why would an agency want to be transparent and honest about its track record? That might spoil its carefully crafted brand! When it comes to marketing, the agencies have really saved the best stuff for themselves; after all, they've managed to hide the Caveat Emptor sign under a big, flashing Green Light Special.


1 comment about "'Consumer Reports' For Ad Agencies ".
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  1. Bill Mcdonald from None, February 17, 2011 at 12:01 a.m.

    What a complete waste of time this article is.

    Never is the advertising agency going to self regulate to achieve anything the article suggests, and never is any government or consumer body going to set up a process to create the information noted.

    Therefore, to speculate about it is worse than pie in the sky...it is, I repeat a waste of time.

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