Last week I was having a conversation with a colleague about how the business of advertising looked so much clearer and direct as it is portrayed on “Mad Men”. We both agreed that dramatic license played a big part in the illusion. Who wants to watch Don work all weekend coming up with snappy jingles for a client? Doesn’t sound like great TV. And certainly, the business is amazingly more complex than it was back then.
But I also pointed out that back then, brands were smaller and more nimble. Also, in most meetings, agencies were often dealing directly with the only decision makers necessary to get an approach approved— in many cases, directly with the founder or owner of the company. In short, brands were more connected to their roots. They were truer to themselves.
Which reminded me of the best advice ever offered to me in the business: “Just be yourself” —given to me right before a big pitch I was participating in. I recently shared this advice to a nervous friend who had an upcoming interview at CP+B. I told him, that if he tried to be anything different, he’d set a precedent that he couldn’t live up (or down) to. (I'd like think it helped, he’s freelancing there now.)
To me this is a big part of what’s missing today from the business of marketing. We’ve lost ourselves in the shadows of aspiration. Teams on client and agency rosters have ballooned to paralyzing levels. And brands continue to stray from what makes them great in search of quick revenue fixes, while agencies face deep crises of identity as they try to reinvent themselves for whatever is next.
Case in point: Starbucks Via. In my mind, it’s 180 degrees in the wrong direction from the core brand promise: a coffee house that’s a gathering place and social hub for a community. I worked on the global Nescafe account and appreciate what a big deal instant coffee is on an international scale. But I just don’t see Via coming close to having an impact on picking up share in that market.
Sure in the US, instant coffee was once part of the consumer mindset and it may still be in some social/demographic sets, but for a company that put the words “Grande skinny vanilla latte” into the vernacular, a foray into instant seems, well, insincere. What’s next? Starbucks frozen dinners?
I'm not saying brands and agencies shouldn't change and evolve. But to do so without regard or understanding for came before seems desperate and fleeting. You may agree or vehemently disagree, but either way, I hope in doing so, that you’ll just be yourself.