The advertising agency business is one big fat scam. I’m not just talking about the “brand aware” wide-boys and Sloanes in the chrome and smoked-glass offices, but the reps in all the marketing and advertising departments in all the media publications out there. In all my years of marketing I haven’t met one I’d trust more than a priest in a nursery.
Actually, maybe I’m being a little unfair – I suspect some of these worker-bees in the advertising agency hive-mind are not so much evil as just plain ignorant, ill-informed and brainwashed with the usual advertising agency shit out there.
But, in true Max Bygraves fashion, I wanna tell you a story…
This morning I get an email from the advertising department of a popular newspaper here in West Cork.
First strike: this is spam. It’s unsolicited commercial email. While I’m not one to run and call the Guards, it is illegal so far as I understand, and even if it’s not, she’s just guaranteed I’ll not be buying from her.
I. Fucking. Hate. Spammers. I especially hate advertising agency spammers after today.
Anyway, it goes like this:
Please see attached letter on a feature we are doing within the XXX. If you would like to advertise in this we are offering you free editorial along with your advert. There will also be a discount on the rate of 50%.
If you would like to discuss further please contact me on details below.
Advertising Agency Trick No.1: the “rate-card”
The “rate card” rate for your ads bears as much resemblance to the real world as a badly made soap opera. Like the Bible, Harry Potter and an MPs Expenses Claim, it’s a work of fiction.
Here’s what they do: someone in the publication greases his fingers and pulls an arbitrary (and high) figure out of their arse and that becomes the “rate-card rate”. No one pays rate card.
Well, let me correct myself: no one who knows their dirty little game pays rate-card. No, what they do is… they haggle. A good friend of mine is brilliant at this and gets 82% or more off ads in the Nationals in the UK. He starts by asking the rate-card and then laughs and says, “I think you’ve got a decimal point in the wrong place, mate“.
The real price of an ad is what the advertising agency can get for it. Sometimes that’s a teeny-tiny fraction of rate-card. See how she was offering me an instant 50% off?
Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?
And it could be… if the Return on Investment warrants it. More on that in a moment.
The point is… the rate card is a crock of shite and you may as well just ignore it. Because the advertising agency will, that’s for sure.
Anyway… I played along and asked how much, how big, and how much editorial I’d get.
What is your rate? And how many words allowed in the editorial?
And sure enough the old rate-card thing came out:
Words for editorial are 200 – 250 words and min size of advert for this is 20cm x 2 col black and white. Discount rate is €950 + vat.
Golly. Aren’t I the lucky one? But it’s still a lot of cash, right? And it means the “usual rate” is almost €2,000. Ouch. Need some serious response to make that worth my while.
So I said:
No, thanks. Too pricey considering it’s an untested ad and medium, and the editorial too small.
And, much to my lack of surprise… the already discounted rate-card rate disappears in a puff of avarice:
How much were you looking to spend and i can see what i can do.
See, this is where I it starts to get my gorge rising.
I’m going to be charitable and give this young lady the benefit of the doubt and assume she doesn’t know she’s party to a filthy scam. Her boss is, or her boss’s boss. The advertising agency as an institution is, for sure. But she probably isn’t. She probably believes the shit she comes out with (have patience and you’ll see a real King Among Advertising Agency Turds below).
Anyway, I wrote back with a simple question, but one very few business owners ever think to ask:
Are you confident advertising in your magazine is going to make me money?
To which she replied:
Its not in a magazine its within the XXX Page just after the Business Pages. We did a feature on XXX back in 2007 and it was very successful.
I have attached readership figures for the XXX for you to view.
And sure enough, she had. It was grand. Impressive-sounding phrases like, “More ABC1’s in Munster“, “multi award winning national broadsheet newspaper with a unique reader profile” and “a unique POSITION IN THE MARKET“. Their caps, not mine.
This hasn’t answered my question, though.
To which she replied (and this has to be one of my favourite Advertising Agency Bollocks examples of all time):
I can’t guarantee for you that its going to make you money but I can guarantee brand awareness.
Whoopee fucking doo.
Brand awareness! So that’s what my business has been missing all this time!
Advertising Agency Trick No.2: “brand awareness”
Next time I get to the checkout in Dunnes’ I’m not going to pay… Instead, I’m going to offer to carry a carrier bag with their logo on it around the town to give them some “brand awareness”.
They’re bound to go for it.
Let me explain something: as an Irish small business owner you need to be about as concerned about your “brand awareness” as you do the price of nails in Kurdistan.
It’s totally irrelevant. Seriously.
Your brand comes about as a natural byproduct of giving excellent service. It’s free. You don’t even need to think about it. Just do a great job and your “brand” such as it is for small businesses, will miraculously arise like a sunflower under a blue sky. The advertising agency doesn’t want you to know this because they want to keep selling you more ads so you can keep building this nebulous and unmeasurable “brand awareness”.
So, anyway, call me cynical if you like, but this seemed a little fishy to me. So I thought I’d make a perfectly reasonable request:
Tell you what — why don’t we run the ad, then I’ll pay you according to the results I get and the income this “brand awareness” brings in?
That’d be fair, don’t you think?
Alas, it was not to be. All of a sudden this great opportunity I had wasn’t perhaps so great once the risk was kinda spread around a bit:
I appreciate your interest in this feature but the Irish Examiner don’t work like that. We would only take adverts and payment when you book with us not after the advert appeared.
No surprises there, then. I’ve yet to have any advertising agency take me up on this. Yellow, spineless fuckers the lot of them. I’d had enough by now so I gave it the broadside:
Yes, I’m familiar with how the advertising industry works. It’s my business, after all. And because I know my business — and your business, too — I know your “brand awareness” nonsense is exactly that.
If I can’t measure income from the ad, there is no point in running it.
I have no desire whatsoever to advertise with you.
Please do not contact me again.
Truth be told, I felt a bit sorry for her. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to think I’m more Gentlemanly than this, and I’m normally much more respectful of women.
But, then, she’s chosen to play in a dirty game, so she ought not be surprised when someone faster and smarter throws the shit right back at her.
What really annoys me is the vast majority of small business owners will be sucked in by this kind of thing. It happens every day: advertising agency calls small business owner with a “great deal”… and the rest you know.
Because they don’t know the ins and outs of marketing and advertising. You could reasonably argue it’s their own fault for not educating themselves; and that’s true. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.
Advertising agencies and media publications would do better to look at the long term. If they had an ounce of common sense (and decency) they’d realise if they can show a decent ROI on the ads they design and run, then they could actually charge more for them. But no, they go for the short-term profit and eschew the long-term relationship, covering their tracks with nonsensical bollocks about “brand awareness“.
An advertising agency with integrity would refuse to run ads which it thought wouldn’t make a decent ROI.
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