What’s With All The Pianos? A Study of Advertising in the Age of Coronavirus
Now that we’re all stuck at home and consuming more television than we have in a while, you might start to wonder, “does every ad have a piano intro and a soothing narrator’s voice in it?” Well, no, but in the current marketing landscape, it has become clear that brands want you to understand that they have empathy for you. They care about your situation and they are still there to support you during these most difficult times. While that is a good sentiment and I appreciate the challenge of selling any product or service when uncertainty rules the day, I can’t help but think that this is less a sign of the times and more an unintended consequence of the way the agency business has been trending over the last several decades.
In this time span, the relationship between advertisers and their agencies has seen a marked change. When I started working in advertising in 1999, this connection seemed to be based mostly on the agency’s ability to understand their clients business in every possible way and translate that knowledge into actionable advertising campaigns. Sometimes that meant that we would disagree with our clients if we believed that a decision was being made that was contrary to the brand’s best interest. It was always more important to serve the long-term interest of the brand and their relationship with consumers than to take a chance on something “off brand”.
How does this tie into our current state of affairs in the advertising world? Part of the reason you are seeing so much sameness in messages is that agencies have, through consolidation and by commoditizing their product, streamlined out that drive to do what’s right for the brand. When the vast majority of agencies (whether they be creative, full-service, or media-specific) are now owned by a small number of holding companies, the focus is less about doing great work for your clients’ business and more about doing work that allows you to earn new business and drive revenue gains. Creative diversity, both in how messages come to life and the consumer insights, research and audience analysis that puts them in front of the right people at the right time are now secondary efforts to an ever-expanding need to add to the bottom line instead of doing what’s best for clients. It’s less and less about client service and more and more about serving the agency business itself.
What I would hope to come from this experience is that brands would re-evaluate their relationships and ensure that their agencies are acting more like fiduciaries and less like brokerages. That they take a more active role in understanding their client’s business and consumers rather than spending so much time and resources trying to win the next new business pitch or sell the newest black box marketing technology. But hopes and dreams from a former agency guy probably won’t keep the pianos from playing.
Lesa and Rick Banks have a combined 35 years of marketing experience having worked with brands such as T-Mobile, Lexus, Motorola, Sony PlayStation, Oberto and Nokia. They currently work as marketing consultants for businesses looking to navigate the digital landscape and connect with consumers in meaningful ways that generate positive growth..