Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Of course it's good. I paid a lot for it.

I've railed in this space before about the automatic assumption that a big agency always does better work than a smaller one.

It's frustrating as hell when those of us who populate Small Agencyland see second-rate work for big clients (anything Capital One has ever done comes to mind).

But before we go any further, let me state the obvious. Big agencies are almost always big because they've been successful. And they are almost always successful because they do good work.  Two things: a) note the cautionary use of "almost" and b) just because they did good work doesn't mean they do it now, do it every time or put the same effort into smaller clients that they put into the big ones with the big TV budgets.

We've said for years that our job usually at some point boils down to a couple of people in a room with a pencil and a blank piece of paper. And, while the big agencies can afford to win almost any talent bidding war, not only are there plenty of hacks at big agencies, but also there are plenty of really talented folks at smaller agencies.

We were presented with a clear (glaring?) example of this recently when we got a look at the results of a brand development project conducted by one of the big guys. This is an agency whose name you would almost certainly recognize, since it includes the name of a guy many consider a legend in the business; a guy many feel "wrote the book" on advertising.

From what we saw, it was a beautiful document, with elegant typesetting and a wonderful use of stock photos to illustrate the brand personality. Without a doubt it took several months to complete and equally without a doubt, the price tag had to be into six figures. To the left of the decimal point, that is.

But it's pure vanilla and doesn't say much of anything about the company. At least not much of anything that differentiates it from anybody else. I'm talking "We're all over the place and locally too."

This is a position we figure could apply to any number of international companies with any sort of local presence, including IBM, Hilton, Exxon, BP, Google, Toyota . . . well, you get the idea. As we said in an e-mail that no doubt brought many of you here, it's one step removed from boilerplate. (And that, boys and girls, explains the photograph above.)

Our polite reaction was "Seriously? This is it?"

But you know what? Even though we know we'd have done a better job (our brand position for a competitor is built around how their approach to the business is different from anybody else's) and we know we'd have charged a third of what the big agency charged and celebrated our good fortune all weekend, we'd probably never would have been hired for this particular gig.

Because somebody would assume that because we'd be charging a fraction of what those guys with the legendary name charged, the work would have been only a fraction as good. Which simply isn't the case.

This is the kind of thinking that tells people that an expensive car is always better, expensive wine is always better, the name brand is always better than the store brand and you simply can't get anything good to eat in a cheap restaurant.

Assumed value based on what something costs is clouded thinking and a poor yardstick.

You know that old saying "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"? I heard a great comeback to that: "Nobody ever got promoted for buying IBM, either."