The “comfortable” agency? More like comfortably ahead.

You’ve got to hand it to agency McGarry Bowen. They just keep winning business. After reeling in a big piece of the Sears account a couple weeks ago they followed it up this week by catching all of Burger King.

Not to kill the fishing metaphor but this monstrous haul is no fluke. McGarry Bowen has been on a winning streak for years. Maybe even since their inception in 2002. According to Wikipedia, in 2008 MB was the largest independent advertising agency in New York. Clearly, those numbers will have to be revised.

The paint was hardly dry in its Chicago office (2007), when they began pulling in account after account, namely from Kraft Foods and often at the expense neighboring agencies, including mine. It seemed they were winning new business every week, and this during the height of the recession.

What gives? Was this seemingly innocuous babe born of the devil? Not likely. Lord knows there’s nothing naughty about their work. Even their relatively edgy “Don’t be Mayo” campaign for Miracle Whip was pretty straightforward when you got right down to it: vignettes, music, supers. Old school.

And indeed principals, John McGarry (Chief Executive Officer), Gordon Bowen, (Chief Creative Officer) and Stewart Owen (Chief Strategic Officer) are as old school as they come: Y & R guys from New York. In addition, many on the management team in Chicago grew up where I did, at Leo Burnett. All these guys are old enough to remember The Brady Bunch and the ads than ran on it. Who said advertising is a young man’s game?

John McGarry: “Dag Nabbit, I’m good!”

So, what’s their secret? I know CEO’s from every agency in America are dying to find out. I’ve heard some theories, one being that the founders are totally committed to relationship and brand building, notions that most every other firm considers antiquated and even trite. Are they? Here’s what the inimitable George Parker had to say about it on his controversial and popular blog, Adscam/The Horror:

“Perhaps all the fucktards out there (aka Big Dumb Agencies) pontificating about how they are social douchnozzeling and friending, tweeting, liking, whatever, should wake up and realize that having gone around the track a few times on all this communicator – conversationnozzle – shit… What they (clients) really need is a fucking ADVERTISING AGENCY!”

For the entire new century the hippest agency on earth has been Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. And rightly so. Their winning streak of both business and creative awards was unsurpassed. (I even called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time.) Until now. Whether I was right or wrong, CP&B lost the Burger King account to McGarry Bowen.

Does this signify a changing of the guard? If ever two agencies were polar opposites it’s these two. Avi Dan, in a piece for Forbes, stated,

“maybe post-recession clients are not in a gambling mood. McGarryBowen is the ultimate safe choice. Sort of the advertising version of “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

I’m not going to editorialize; I admire both agencies. But I’m pretty sure only one of them is hiring right now. My take: MB and CP&B balance each other out. Like yin and yang. Maybe shops versed in both schools are where it’s at, places like Goodby and Wieden.



Miracle Whip vs. Stephen Colbert. Round II

A remarkable story from those adorable guttersnipes at Agency Spy; it’s about one of our clients (Kraft) and a competing agency (McGarry Bowen) so I have to tread carefully.  Some background. Last month, on his popular show, Stephen Colbert teed off about Miracle Whip’s new advertising campaign. In his inimitable style, he took the salad spread to task for trying to be hip and edgy. It’s all here: Colbert & Miracle Whip on Agency Spy

So, Colbert ridicules another advertising campaign. Funny sure. But for him a lay up. Skewering commercials, pop stars and politicians is what he does. Most of his victims invariably take it on the chin, especially national advertisers. What are they supposed to do –fight back? Make a spectacle of them selves? PR 101 suggests clients remain above the fray. Don’t draw any more attention to the matter.

Kudos to Miracle Whip for not listening to this advice… What. So. Ever. According to Agency Spy, the brand took out a full-page newspaper ad today making light of the whole affair. It’s quirky, unexpected and that’s not the half of it. Adhering to their own brand strategy (We are Miracle Whip and we won’t back down), the brand taunts Colbert by stating their intent to run creative (the very creative he made fun of) during every commercial break on his show this evening. “In a sense,” they wrote, “We own you.”

Even if Colbert sarcastically thanks Kraft for throwing all those ad dollars at his show (what I’d do) I still think the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. Miracle Whip making him their bitch is pretty damn radical. Way outside the box wouldn’t you say?

Knowing the people, places and things associated with this story, I think it’s stunning. And brilliant. No matter what Colbert does he’s playing into their hands. More talk. More story. More buzz for Miracle Whip. In other words: social currency. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is what every agency is promising, and only sometimes delivering, for their clients.

And finally, props to Agency Spy for seeing this story for what it is. As of this writing the trades hadn’t.

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