The Dark Side of Online Advertising Agencies

I began my professional working life as a junior copywriter at the local office of a multinational advertising agency. It was great fun and I learned a lot about copywriting. I also, learned, however, about the ‘dark side’ of advertising agencies… and why the pursuit of ‘creativity’ for its own sake usually results in sub-optimal advertising.

Back then, the commercial Internet was only getting started and most advertising agencies focused on producing advertising for the print and broadcast media. Some dabbled in ‘interactive advertising’ and website design, but for the most part, these burgeoning activities were left to upstart web design shops.

Nowadays, the big agency networks have either integrated, or own separate, web design companies and online advertising is either offered by or through the major advertising agency brands. In any case, online marketing has been elevated to a much higher status by those in the advertising world, and agencies are paying increasingly more attention to the Internet as a medium that is only growing in importance.

All well and good, but there’s a dark side to the traditional advertising agencies embracing online advertising. And that’s bringing their preoccupation with ‘creativity’ to the web.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I value and admire creativity. But what I saw when I was a junior copywriter, and later as a marketing manager for a large consumer goods company, were ad agencies valuing creativity for the sake of creativity, rather than to help build their client’s brand or sell products.

That is not to say that all online ad agencies value creativity over effectiveness (instead of regarding creativity as a means of being effective!) but it’s something to remember when, for example, considering whether or not to work with such a firm.

Tell-tale signs of an agency that is preoccupied with creativity are an emphasis on winning awards and an ignorance of, or negative attitude towards testing and metrics.

Put it this way: if the people wanting to work on your Internet advertising account – including the copywriter, art director and most certainly, the account manager – give you a blank stare when you ask them about their agency’s testing methodology, they are probably not the agency for you!

It’s understandable for some clients to want more ‘brand building’ orientated agencies, and others to want more ‘direct response’ orientated agencies. Different clients will inevitably want different kinds of online advertising campaigns.

But the nature of the Internet is such that many (if not all) responses to any kind of advertising execution can be measured. So whether you’re running a direct response advertisement in order to generate click-throughs and sales… or more of a brand oriented ad measured aimed at generating ad interactions… there’s really no excuse not to measure the effectiveness of a given marketing initiative.

All of which means there’s no place for online advertising agencies that aren’t interested in testing or metrics. Such agencies are operating on the dark side of the business and, unless you’re willing to pay for creativity over effectiveness, not the kinds of marketing company you want to be doing business with…

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