The Four Camps Of Advertising Agencies

Who decides what constitutes great advertising strategy? Is it the brand that pays for
it, the agency that creates it, the panel that judges it, or the market that buys into

Of course, the answer is the market, but you'd be surprised how few in the
advertising industry actually create advertising for the buying public.

It is paramount to understand that buyers render the most decisive judgment about
what constitutes great advertising especially if the goal is to steal share. How can we
steal share unless we have focused our advertising on the audience? Their dollars
are the share we are trying to steal.

However, it is our experience at Stealing Share(TM) that most advertising is aimed at
everyone but the buyer. Ads are created to catch the eyes of potential awards show
judges, for example, or to impress the internal audience of the brand's employees,
or to boost the agency's self-esteem. When brands perform internally, they go
nowhere. Agencies need to focus on the buying public when creating advertising.

Many advertising agencies will take great pains to discuss the target audience. They
will even nail the characteristics and personality of that audience. Most often,
however, the actual execution of their insights will miss the mark. The brands, or
more accurately the brand managers, will get the blame. They will watch their
business suffer and actually lose market share.

We at Stealing Share(TM) tell our clients to think of the advertising agency market as
including the following four camps:

Camp 1 - The Safe Agency. They usually say the right things
and keep clients for years on end. The target audience they serve is not the
customer, rather it is the brand manager. They work to please one person. These
agencies keep clients for a long time simply because they never challenge clients to
know the actual audience as well as they know themselves.

Camp 2 - The Of-The-Moment Agency. This agency wins all of
the creative awards. Their work is flashy, fun and memorable. You know their names
from the pages of ADWEEK and AdAge. They talk the talk about the target audience
but create advertising for themselves and their peers. They are only inspired by
advertising that is different rather than different, better and targeted toward the
minds of the buying public. This is the agency that produces the spot that makes
you go, "Wow," but doesn't make the customer commit.

Camp 3 - The Big Agency. Think Camp 1, only larger in size.
This agency pays homage to the "creative process" because they once believed in it.
They even have an impressive TV reel to prove prior loyalty, but they have become
so big that they now attract huge clients who feel their brand is already complete.
It's finished. These brands do not need new thinking. They just need the agency
with its own brand name to complete the picture. This agency has long ago
abandoned considering the consumer. It thinks of its own brand and VIP client list.

Camp 4 - The Thinking Agency. Here's the agency you want to
seek, and they are out there in good number. They are agencies that tell clients the
truth and get permission from the brand to create advertising that is different,
better and strategic. They are closer to Camp 2 than Camp 1 because they do value
creativity as an important element in successful messaging. This firm differs in that
they truly focus on the consumer and never confuse their agency or the client with
the buyer.

Their work is varied. It is not all funny, all testimonial or all serious. Their work
changes to reflect the most strategic way to influence the target audience by
thinking of why the audience chooses. They will not use industry awards as a proof
of their success. They want to influence and change behavior.

If your advertising is designed to steal market share, then it needs to acknowledge
the basic beliefs of the target audience that create brand loyalty. (For our clients at
Stealing Share(TM), we call those beliefs "precepts.") It needs to be about the consumer
and not about your marketing department or the creative director who conceived of

We know from experience that purchase decisions are usually not cognitive; they are
emotional. Emotional decisions are more difficult to understand but easier to
change. You need to demand that your advertising leverages the "precepts" that
govern the lives of your target audience and gives your audience a reason to choose
your brand. The target audience needs to see that your advertising speaks only to
them, and that the call to action is not about buying the product, but about buying
(being) the brand.

Where do you and your agency fit into all this? That evaluation is the first step in
beating your competitors. If you really want to win, then you need to clear all of the
big egos out of the room -- even your own.