For today’s advertising agencies, sweating the small stuff often yields big rewards.

October 23, 2012

The other day I participated in a lengthy meeting about a cocktail party the agency is creating for one of its clients. A cocktail party. The team was discussing three concepts. The copywriter and the account executive got into a tussle over which concept to recommend to the client. It got fairly animated.

A cocktail party.

I had to smile. Since when did we become party planners? Since when did a copywriter give a shit about deliverables relating to one? Ten-years-ago-me wanted to yell: “For the love of God, it’s only a cocktail party!” Instead I lobbed a few jokes about hiring a magician or karaoke “the latest craze from Japan!” But I didn’t dare stop the debate. To paraphrase the copywriter: “This is our chance to do good work. These are the things that win awards.”

In fact, more and more it is these funky little assignments that yield the most interesting creative product. Apps, Twitter handles, ambient, street theater and, yes, cocktail parties are the low-hanging for many agencies. Not just ours. Juggernauts like BBDO and CP&B have long figured out it’s the whacky microsites, unusual videos and other oddities that drive buzz and garner acclaim. The Cannes Gold Lion for a fetching Facebook concept is just as shiny as the one given for press and broadcast. Plus, it has the added value of being ambient or digital, terms that make our industry gaga.

Still. Calling a video that gets 80 thousand views a viral sensation is a joke. 80,000 views are paltry compared to broadcast. Hence the development of another socially inspired, mouth-watering term: Engagement! 2.2 million viewers of a commercial on cable are not as valuable as 80,000 “engaged” people watching online.

There is more than a kernel of truth to it. The gurus aren’t completely high on fumes. Sharing and talking about something is buzz. And it happens to attract mountains of praise, albeit mostly from ourselves. Yet, we hire ourselves. Give raises to ourselves. Award ourselves. Therefore, an App that rates food based on fart smells gets a Clio. 32,000 people like it on “Facebook.” Adfreak does a piece on it. The creative team is among the “pairs to watch in 2013.” And so it goes…

PS: The Fart App or “Fapp” is all mine.

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