Winning despite all the naysayers

In 2011, the advertising agency, Mcgarrybowen became the AOR on Burger King, Sears, United/Continental and just the other day, Bud Light. Hard to believe they could top last year, when the agency also won more than its share of big accounts. While most advertising agencies have struggled –with new media, with the recession, with themselves- Mcgarrybowen has thrived. And they’ve done so without employing creative superstars or the attention grabbing pyrotechnics so coveted by their peers. And now they are seemingly without peer, having beaten in pitches most every Madison Avenue juggernaut and the creative powerhouses alike.

They have their haters. The trade blogs and comment strings are dripping with malevolence. Mcgarrybowen’s people are “old.” They are “hacks.” They do the kind of “traditional” work that gives “advertising a bad name.” “Conservative to a fault,” they do only what “the client wants.” They suck.

And yet…

Without big names in the corners or big trophies in the lobby, Mcgarrybowen wins every pitch they are in. And it’s not like they’re going after small fry. Blue chippers are as hard to come by as Blue Marlin, but their hulls are full of them.

Haters point at their creative product, saying “meh.” But this can only be construed as jealousy, or elitist scorn. Sort of like when film students deride Hollywood for making mass-appeal films instead of art. True, I can’t think of anything sensational they’ve done from a purely creative perspective but since when has advertising ever been made from a purely creative perspective? Besides, Burger King had “sensational” work. The kind of work that put them in the so-called “conversation.” Maybe the client just wanted good advertising.

Mcgarrybowen understands that this is a business, and like any business these days, budgets are shrinking and people are scared. Whether creative purists like it or not, big marketers want big ideas that are safe. That usually means showing the product and people enjoying it. Push the envelope a little but not off the table. It seems the agency will gladly forsake Gold Lions at Cannes for fat coiffers in New York and Chicago. And because of this they are the comfortable choice for CMO’s, over and over again.

John Mcgarry. Dinosaurs rule!

Theirs is an old school approach and one in which I wrote about when the agency’s winning streak began. Since that post they’ve won United/Continental and Bud Light. Those are the two biggest brands in two of the biggest categories on earth.

Tebow-like isn’t it? Against relentless criticism, all they do is win. I know several men and women at Mcgarrybowen here in Chicago. I “came up” with some of them at Leo Burnett. They will tell you there’s nothing magical behind their success. Just hard work, due diligence and a knack for listening. Whatever it is, it’s a great story. More power to them.