“ That’s the trouble with advertising – everyone’s an expert but precious few actually understand it…”
Ad agencies would be great places in which to work if it wasn’t for clients and money.
Let’s face it, there is nothing more annoying and downright pitiful than an agency doing fantastic work for a client, getting really great sales results, winning awards right, left and centre and then a global realignment sees them losing the account.
Mind you, there is something a lot more annoying and even more pitiful and that is when big brother brands get all uppity when little brother brands start showing them up.
In the 1960s when I was working in Durban for Lindsay-Smithers, then affectionately known as the Ministry of Advertising, we were asked to come up with an all new campaign for our client, India Tyres.
For weeks there were arses lying all over the creative department floor as everyone worked their butts off to come up with an absolutely stunning campaign that eventually won the LS group’s creative award for the year. And thoroughly pissed off the people in the Smithers head office in Jo’burg who always considered their KwaZulu-Natal counterparts to the creative equivalents of seven day old sardine bait.
Anyway, for the presentation we lined up just about everybody in the agency from the MD to media people, strategists, creative and I think that even the rotund Mrs Eunice Mhlanga had a pivotal role to play in serving the tea from a tray made from a whitewall India tyre.
Adrenalin was running faster than the Umgeni in full flood and at final rehearsal there were high-fives galore and happy cries of “yesssssss…!”
Actually, I lie. It being the then-Natal the happy cries were actually diverse and muted versions of, “I say, chaps, jolly well done.”
Anyway, two days before the presentation, the client’s PA phoned to find out how many agency people would be at the meeting.
“Seventeen,” we said.
Client said forget it. There were only three people coming from his side and therefore they didn’t want any more than three from the agency side and we could also forget about letting them come in one by one because that just wasted time.
Then we had a brilliant idea. I had read in the Natal Mercury that very morning that an electronic distributor in Durban had just imported the very first video tape recorder into South Africa. Remember, this was 10 years before TV came to South Africa and was still considered by government to be the work of the devil.
The VCR was a huge machine that worked with bloody great tapes. We gave them a call, hired the machine and a camera and recorded every one of our 17 people.
The great day arrived. Client and his two cohorts arrived looking like undertakers in search of fresh bodies.
In the middle of the boardroom table was a square thing covered in a black cloth.
The three of us did a build-up to the presentation that was worthy of an Idols finale and then, with a flourish, I whipped the cloth off the TV set.
There was an audible gasp of awe. Then, a stunned silence. The three undertakers all stood up and started circling the TV set like vultures round an Impala carcass.
They sat dumbstruck as our presentation rolled on the small screen and afterwards hooted and hollered like kids as we allowed them to video themselves doing silly things.
Once order had been restored, client told us solemnly that he had never in his life seen such a great campaign and even without the video thingummybob they would have been well and truly gobsmacked.
They agreed with the budget, the media selection, the strategy and got all dewy-eyed at the emotive ads. They would be sending the official letter of acceptance the following day.
They skipped out of the boardroom with our campaign portfolio under their arms and talking Hollywood movie lingo.
Three days later they sent a terse message to say that they had presented our campaign to Dunlop, the big brother owner of the India Tyres brand, and that the Dunlop people insisted that the campaign had to be canned because ” it would upstage current Dunlop advertising…”
Just before we lost the India Tyres account as a result of one of our creative directors discussing in detail with client the canine breed from which his mother emanated and various other mild-mannered and highly creative descriptions of his lineage, we produced a campaign that Dunlop loved. It was mediocre, bland and didn’t sell a single additional India tyre.
That was almost 50 years ago and since then I have owned a lot of cars and not one of them has ever been shod with a Dunlop product.
Which just goes to show that brand disloyalty can run very deep and very long when an ad agency gets kicked in teeth.
Even more tragic is that the same thing is still happening. Global realignments and wonderful advertising campaigns being canned because of big brother egos and even worse, because the client’s wife didn’t like it.
That’s the trouble with advertising – everyone’s an expert but precious few actually understand it.
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