Last week’s Lemon report from the IPA suggested there’s a “crisis of creative effectiveness” largely because of a shift towards short-term, one-off creativity, at the expense of long-term brand building work.
The report pointed to the industry’s obsession with awards, with some 80%of this years Cannes Lions Awards being handed out to one-off activations, as the reason for the decline.
However, at a recent roundtable hosted by The Drum – just before the Lemon report was released last week – client and agency-side executives debated on why the changing nature of their relationship was in part to blame for the demise in long-term, effective work.
Kirsten Stagg, head of marketing, Skoda, was quick to cite the fundamental issues of the shortening tenure of a chief marketing officer - now just 43 months - saying that with a new arrival comes the tendency to rip up what’s been done before and bring in new agencies.
The remedy, she said, is to ensure that all senior stakeholders in the business – from the chief executive officer down – are aware of the brand strategy and vision for how it will be executed.
But Stagg went on to point out a second problem – that long-term, brand building activity requires a certain level of trust in advertising agencies. And that ranges from trusting their vision of the "big idea" to knowing they will admit when something isn’t working.
“Collaboration is really important, but it's built up over time. Unfortunately, you can't expect trust to be handed on a plate,” she said.
It was a point echoed by Phil Lloyd, chief marketing officer at Carwow, who has previously worked at agencies including BBH and AMV BBDO. He seemed to anticipate the findings of the Lemon report when he said his concern as a marketer hunting an agency (it had just appointed TBWA) is the assumption that award-winning creative will equal commercial success. He bemoaded the readiness to show a reel of expensive TV ads instead of work that's had an impact on a brand's bottom line.
“What the advertising industry considers great work usually tends to correlate with awards. A lot of creative directors I've met will talk about their reel and what's been creatively awarded. The vast majority of agencies correlate success on Gunn points," Lloyd added.
“But I want truly impactful work that is distinctive because it delivers the commercial success I'm measured on. If I don't sell stuff I get fired. The industry asks [clients] ‘why aren't you braver?’ and I would respond ‘why don't you present me with stuff I know that will deliver the commercial success.”
Agencies, however, were quick to challenge. At the heart of their concerns was that the fundamental role of the creative agency was being misunderstood by chief marketing officers and their teams.
Sue Higgs, executive creative director at Grey London said it's a shift she's noted in recent years of clients over-estimating their own creative abilities.
“Everything that we try and do in the creative industry is very hard to quantify our experience, craft, gut...where everyone else can put a metric on it. Increasingly, I see a shift that a lot more clients behave as creative directors, not good ones, without the experience and sweating over work and annuals from abroad but still judge it as if they have. It's so difficult and as a creative to do your job because you feel as if you're being clipped," she said.
“There's been a shift where agencies were seen as the creative place but now everyone's creative and everyone can do it. There's been a seismic shift and the emphasis on what the agency can do has been taken away."
But, Higgs didn't long for days when creative agencies were given a blank remit to do what they like. Instead she said the environments that foster the best work are when the "master-servent relationship" is replaced by a collaborative partnership.
“I know it sounds basic," she said. "But otherwise that's where the argument will be lost, and the work will get worse. The greatest work comes from a great trust and understanding. A lot of the trust has gone. So many of the intangible qualities that used to be around I don't see anymore.”
Michelle Marks, head of creative strategy EMEA for Facebook and Instagram, gave an example from her time client-side, where she witnessed junior members of her marketing team giving art direction to a creative director.
“I was appalled […] and that comes from a democratisation of creativity," she added.
Trevor Robinson OBE, founder of ad agency Quietstorm, went on to say that the more layers of leadership in an organisation are involved in marketing decision, the more often he will see work being “boiled down until all the teeth are taken out.”
“Our work is being dumbed down at every level because it's going through a committee before you can get a good idea out,” he said
“The thing that frightens me about our industry on coming up with the big idea and sticking with the big idea - when you put down an idea I feel like there's so many people are working with no judgement but are in the position.”
But Robinson admitted seeing the challenge today’s marketers face, when they have to commit to an idea that will connect with people on every conceivable platform. “You have to have a client that gets every platform, who gets how to connect with people on each of those platforms. Once upon a time we just had radio, TV and OOH, but now they have to understand creative on so many different levels.”
Skoda’s Stagg also expressed sympathy for agencies. “Where the CMO role hasn't been appreciated as a specialism and I've seen heads of sales with industry experience finding themselves in a CMO role,” she said.
“It's really hard to understanding all the channels and transcending them when you don't have that skillset. So no matter how great an idea the agency has, they just might not see it.”
The comments came from a roundtable hosted for judges of The Drum Advertising Awards. Full details of the awards can be found on the website.