Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over bad ads and that our marketing had become unmanageable.

October 8, 2010


“I can’t stop sucking!”

A colleague of mine was discussing a visit he’d just made with a prospective client. The client had called us because they’d seen something we did for another client. (Always nice when your work speaks for itself. Hurray us!)

Anyway, the report I got was that the client hates their own advertising. Having previewed some of it, I agree with this assessment.

But here’s the odd thing or at least the thing I want to write about: though the client dislikes their own work they also admit being powerless to stop making it. “We are our own worst enemy,” they said.

Fascinating. The phenomena of self-loathing combined with powerlessness to change reminds me of the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome. It also reminds me of the first step in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (bad ads) and that out lives (marketing) had become unmanageable.”

I don’t mean to be glib but emotional stakes aside, it’s a fair comparison. Likewise, I think the afflicted client deserves credit asking for help to break the chain of insanity. That chain can be long and heavy, with lots of baggage attached to its links. And like a strand of DNA, the chain of crummy marketing is often deeply ingrained into the suffering company’s zeitgeist. Individually, everyone rails against it but collectively they are paralyzed. Approvals, process and untold miscellanea get in the way of doing something truly different. The cycle continues, the blame game erupts and, well, it gets ugly. Obviously, the agency –be they old or new- gets caught up as well.

Still, in the face of such insanity, the agency is probably the client’s best hope. Yet we must be careful not to let our own dysfunction get caught up in theirs. In order to succeed we need to affect change across all sectors of their marketing department. Our people need to match up properly. Bridges of trust must be built and fast. As many of you know this is easier said than done.

What I find most poignant about this story is that everyone in it wants to do good work but for whatever reasons they can’t. To me, this transcends mere marketing problem and becomes the bittersweet stuff of life!

2 Responses to “Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over bad ads and that our marketing had become unmanageable.”

  1. william marks said

    On the surface, clients profess the desire for advertising which burnishes brands. And agencies, on the surface, profess the desire for advertising which moves the merch. It’s part of the dance of each side playing against type, an age-old game of liar’s poker, with few ever saying what they really want.

  2. jim schmidt said

    There are simply not enough good people on the client side or on the agency side. Hence, the numerous problems. Clients often come across as conservative and a bit paranoid, but that’s because agencies often come across as conniving carnies trying get more and more money from the client’s pockets.

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