Well, that escalated quickly. In addition to gaping while watching the ad get progressively worse and worse, the question on my mind, and perhaps everyone’s minds, was how on earth did this slip through both Pepsi’s & Jenner’s approval process?
Anyone in the industry knows that there is a long (sometimes too long) approval process when it comes to putting out work. And work with a multi-million dollar budget behind it? Even longer.
The idea that no one thought this might be erring on the side of offensive is outrageous. The only silver lining, for agencies anyway, is that it was made by Pepsi’s in-house content team. If it had been an agency, I’d be putting their future seriously in doubt. This kind of backlash would take a long time to recover from.
And therein lies the problem.
The trend of moving content, creative and production in-house has been debated at length over the last couple of years. First, a caveat: I understand the benefit to having people within a business that can protect the brand and be 100% focused on it. When these teams work collaboratively with their agency partners, the impact and innovation that comes out of it can be second to none.
But the move to rely on solely in-house teams means that all the value an agency brings – its diversity of client and sector experience, deep understanding across different consumer groups and rigorous culture of challenge, candour and competition – is lost.
In agency land (well at Iris at least) we question each other every day, we create new teams around client needs and collaborate on new challenges. We hire the brightest and the best talent in the region, who bring with them a book of revered accolades that mean their opinion really matters. In Asia specifically, this is not only important but I think crucial to a client's business in understanding the wide variety of cultures and consumers across this region.
Advertisers come to agencies because we don’t have to deal with much of the daily grind that exists client-side, because we’re free (to a certain extent), to not worry about stakeholder engagement or pressure from management teams; that is part of the deal – the agency sweats hard to craft a beautiful, brave inspiring idea and the client sweats hard to influence anyone they need to in order to get it out into the market. It’s a shame that the trend is moving away from investing in longer term client/agency partnerships.
The move to take things in house is often a commercial one; it’s a move that values speed, efficiency and cost over quality, impact and craft.
It reduces the esteem of good creative at every level.
Everything an agency does on a client's behalf is (or should be) intentional; we push each other to distil the cultural tensions we want to play on, we stay till midnight to crack the manifesto, we agonise over logo placement, fonts and colour-grading, we test and test and test again, all because we are obsessed with delivering the best creative product we can that we KNOW will hit the mark (and er, won’t be pulled in 24 hours).
On top of that, we force ourselves to do all the above at speed and competitive cost. And ideally, without compromising on quality or craft because that is our currency and it is what makes transformational things happen for our people and our clients. My creative teams don’t want to be outdone by the team sat next to them. They want glory and they will create what is glorious for the specific brand they work on because of that.
Could you say the same for in-house? Is the same frustrated ambition there on a daily basis? Are they motivated by their book, or what their ECD will say? I’m not sure they are.
In this brave new world of project-based, no agency of record, hyper-targeted, always-on la la land, let’s not forget the brave old world of simple, powerful creative ideas. Ideas that understand the brand, its business and its consumers, that impact & shape culture, that stand for something, that demonstrate that brands breathe the same air as their consumers. Our industry landscape is changing – the need for agencies to demonstrate value, not just in building the brand but building the business, has never been more apparent. Our role in doing that – for agencies that are evolving beyond offering traditional ‘communications’ into commerce and culture – is (I think) essential.
Let’s not value speed, cost and efficiency over powerful human (and business) insights, clear strategy and creative that means something, all driven by a hunger and passion to shine.
You’ll only get that from an agency.
Sorcha John is managing director of Iris Singapore