Do you laugh or cry at our industry?

As you know, the advertising industry is the most over-awarded self-indulgent industry in the world. We have award programmes for everything from letterbox leaflets, to television commercials, social media and even agencies win awards for being an agency. There is also massive duplication as award programmes are run by trade magazines, industry associations and major brands.


I’ve judged numerous awards programmes, been Chairman of Judges a few times and even designed the current ADMA awards structure by merging the original programme with the Australia Post awards, way back when.

But I was once again stunned this week, reading a judge’s comment for an award given to a direct marketing agency in a trade magazine’s annual awards. This is not a reflection on the agency by the way – they are quite good.

Here’s the quote: “in a new year when traditional direct marketing is struggling to find its place in the marketing mix, the finalists had examples of campaigns that were true to the discipline and were true to the client” (change hands)

I have no idea what the sentence means. Direct Marketing is a way of marketing (see earlier posts) and it is booming in the digital age, because the internet is a pure direct channel. There is no such thing as traditional direct marketing. By implication is there renaissance direct marketing, a post-modern direct marketing, a cubist direct marketing, even a digital direct marketing???

Direct marketing is any marketing activity where you communicate directly with your customers and prospects or they respond directly to you, in any media. There is always a measurable transaction either of data or dollars – and it doesn’t matter on what day of the week or in which century you do the work.

Direct marketing is also the hardest thing you can do in marketing, because you are trying to get the customer or prospect to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. And this takes special skills.

These DM skills and the knowledge needed to create the marketing messages haven’t changed in over 150 years. They also have precious little to do with the media channel in which you advertise, apart from knowing the best way to buy the media and the most productive format in which to produce your creative execution.

I suspect the ‘judge’ is confusing direct marketing with one of the historically most popular channels, direct mail. This is a traditional communication channel – in fact it’s the oldest channel apart from face-to-face.

But when an awards judge hasn’t a clue about the marketing discipline they are judging, what hope does the industry have? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – we’ve had 30 years of DM education in this country, yet still we don’t know what we’re doing, if you take this judge’s comments as typical.

And what the hell does “true to the discipline” mean? The communication achieved its objectives? I though this sort of ad-speak died after the 1987 crash? But it appears to be raising its ugly head again. Because as I glanced across the page after reading the judge’s comments, I noticed this description of an agency as a “digital, creative and social media shop”. As against an analogue, uncreative, anti-social shop? WTF?

Why do we define agencies by the media channels they use? Should we call Clemenger a “cathode-ray tube advertising agency” because they create TV ads? Should Ogilvy be the “railway-stairs print agency” because they produce posters that appear at train stations? Should the art studios that produce online advertising be called “Binary code agencies”?

The intellectual laziness in the industry is frightening. People are not taking time to improve their knowledge, study history and really understand marketing. They think that because they work in the industry they know it all. It’s similar to thinking you can become a brain surgeon by hanging around the casualty ward!

So do we rage against the machine and try to weed out the weak? Or do we just accept the industry will always attract these type of people?

If we are to really create great work that delivers outstanding results, we need to weed out the weak. But I suspect there isn’t the intestinal fortitude to do so and the continued acceptance of mediocrity will be the norm.

I’m off to write copy for a sky-writing advertisement, but am concerned the airplane uses both analogue and binary technology to fly and release the message, so what creative execution should I use?? And should it be serif or san serif? I’d better ask the judge.

© Malcolm Auld Direct Pty Ltd 2022 | Commercial In Confidence

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