Most recently, we saw the development of "Tiger Did It" by Joseph Jaffe, in which Jaffe created a spot featuring that made-for-TV moment from last week's Masters in which Tiger Woods sunk one of the greatest chip shots in recent history and the Nike logo was dominant in every highlight. The moment was made for an ad, and Jaffe did a great job of making a point: The consumer is truly in an ownership position for today's brands. But in making this point, he also confused the issue of the value of creative. Jaffe's ad was created in two to three hours on a home computer for virtually no cost. Agencies get paid a significant amount of money for similar efforts, so if you're an advertiser, why should you pay for the agencies services when your "average Joe" (what a great pun, sorry Joseph) is willing to do it for nothing?
It's a question that no one wants to ask, but one that any agency is quick to answer. I believe the agency world is where the best of the best reside. The agencies gather the top talent and put them to work on business to drive results for their clients. The agency recognizes the need for coordinating a strategy that identifies the needs of a segment of the audience and can apply that information to a design that is aimed at driving results. Your "average Joe" will typically do something they think is "cool" without regard for the brand image.
Agencies take the right amount of time to develop campaigns, whereas your "average Joe" will develop a singular idea. Agencies also think about a unifying theme, whereas your "average Joe" will focus on a moment in time or a singular experience. Of course, there are some brands that can survive on the moment, but the stronger, more established brands are focused on a brand. They use the brand as a means to drive growth over a period of time. A moment can show a spike or create buzz, but the moment will inevitably pass; a brand can live on and on.
Think of the sock puppet. The sock puppet was a moment in time. He was an idea for the present that did not convey the message of the brand in the long term. Anyone could have come up with a sock puppet, but not anyone could have come up with "The Ultimate Driving Machine" for BMW.
There will always be a place in popular culture for the moment, or the buzz-generating idea. I am not discounting that altogether. I am saying that even though the consumer has moved into a more powerful position with regards to the life of a Brand, the advertiser can still steer the direction of the consumer and the agencies are still the best place to develop the central theme and the unifying ideas. They focus on the brand as a tool to drive sales rather than the moment as a kick with the spurs.
The next time you work with your agency, be sure to examine the ideas they bring to the table. Be sure they are bringing you a central idea and not a collection of ideas for the moment. If they are, then call your "average Joe." You might be able to save a couple of bucks.