Audi has just called a review of its UK business, putting BBH London (of which it is a founding client) on alert for the first time since 1982. So, before I go on let’s get the emotional stuff out the way first:
- BBH is pretty good
- Its work for Audi has been, by and large, pretty good
- It’s won a whole heap of IPA awards, so we can assume it’s not just the industry that likes it.
So there’s that. I make no apologies for the understatement, because this isn’t an overwrought, overly emotional plea for some goddam human decency in our godforsaken industry, and I don’t want anyone to mistake it for that.
Don’t get me wrong, I think I could build a fairly compelling argument on those foundations. No brand-client relationship can or should last forever, but this one, from the outside at least, looked pretty fucking good.
BBH has been through a fair few different wringers over the last few years, but, in a world where everyone else seems to believe that people buy cars purely based on their ability to drive around that corner on that road outside Cape Town, the agency's work for Audi has been consistently excellent.
So how *did* we get here?
Well, Audi, of course, has also been through a tough time in the last couple of years, largely thanks to what its quarterly report refers to, with a fairly uncharacteristic touch of litotes, as "the diesel issue". And that, one suspects, is where its procurement team has got involved. Savings need to be made. And, as any fule kno, marketing is a great place to start.
So, here we are. Assuming (and it’s a big assumption) that the relationship is still fine, we have a brand about to put an agency partner of some 40 years through an eight-month pitch process, led by procurement.
And it’s a process that every agency in London should refuse to take part in, for their own sake.
No, not because of industry solidarity, or presenting a united front, or standing up for creativity, or even because we really like that clowns ad. But because when we fall over ourselves to take part in transparent cost-cutting exercises like this, we’re prioritising short-term gain over long term stability and even growth for the industry.
Every agency head out there is more than happy to bitch about procurement driving down their margins, and knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing, but when an opportunity arrives to actually stand up and make a difference, the P&L looms large, and we jump in feet first.
Just imagine for a second: what if we didn’t. What if, when contacted to ask if they were interested in pitching for Audi, agencies didn’t just say ‘fuck yes’, but asked why the pitch was being held in the first place? What if they asked why a forty-year partnership had suddenly come unstuck?
Asked themselves whether it was worth investing tens of thousands of pounds worth of their own time and money to try to win a piece of business that’s going to end up worth less to whoever wins it than it is right now to the agency that’s worked on it, highly successfully, for the last 37 years?
Wouldn’t that feel fucking amazing? Wouldn’t it feel good to stand up in front of your agency, and say: 'We’re not going to be pitching for Audi, because we don’t feel that pitch should be happening. And, what’s more, we feel that in pursuing that opportunity, we’d be damaging our industry, devaluing what we do, and making it harder for any creative business to succeed. Saying no to this opportunity is the right thing for our shareholders, the right thing for our industry, and the right thing for everyone who works within it.'
Of course, I know it won’t happen.
It’s too shiny a logo. It’s too big a fee, whatever the margin. It’s too big a creative opportunity. The new business departments of agencies big and small have already checked just how long it would take to get a hybrid agency/Audi app built for the iPad they’ve got ready to send to the chief marketing officer in a luxury leather case. Because today, all that matters is getting on that list - and tomorrow, we can get back to bitching about how mean procurement is, and how are margins are being eroded.
Well, not at Creature. We think this pitch is a bad thing, for BBH, for Audi, and for our industry, and we want nothing to do with it. Who’s with us?
Dan Cullen-Shute is chief executive and founder of Creature of London. He tweets at @creature_dan