The Blog

by Jim Copacino

Is “Advertising Agency” a Toxic Phrase?

Some people think so. According to one marketing consultant, “The whole idea is outdated, and the concept hasn’t evolved since the late 1960′s. It’s a bunch of guys in suits using your dollars to try and win themselves awards.”

“Advertising,” it seems, has become a code word for the misguided act of squandering vast sums on 30-second TV commercials that no one sees, remembers or cares about.

As a result, agencies are coming up with all manner of blather to describe what they do. One proudly proclaims itself a “marketing solutions consortium.”


For the record, we label ourselves an advertising agency without apology. It’s a simple word for “we communicate with people to sell stuff.” Much like “iPhone” is a simple word for, “this baby does a million amazing things in addition to calling your mother.”

The key question is not what we call it but, rather, what should an ad agency be doing in 2011?

With a debt of gratitude to our friend and former MAGNET partner Scott McCormick at VML, we’re structuring our agency around three guiding principals:

1. Be a think tank that executes.
Focus on strategic thinking to solve real-world business problems. Then play the trump card that ad agencies hold over consultants: Execute the strategy with powerful storytelling. (Ask Leonard The Goldfish about this one.)

2. Stop creating campaigns and start creating platforms.
Campaigns are time-limited and narrow in scope. Platforms are broadly based business initiatives that define a brand to itself and its audiences. Our platform for LifeWise Health Plan is Boringly Good. More than an ad campaign, it’s become a guide for how the company does business—namely, providing health coverage without drama or surprises.

3. Master the new media ecosystem.
Brands succeed through recognition, trust and intimacy. It’s not enough to simply trumpet brand messages in a one-way conversation. On the other hand, relying solely on digital is, in most cases, too slow and fragmented. Skillfully work all the levers of consumer engagement:

    Paid—for reach, scope and speed
    Owned—for depth and focus
    Social—for intimacy and interaction

If we can deliver on these three objectives, it doesn’t matter if we call ourselves an ad agency or body-and-fender shop. Because we’re pretty sure brand managers will be calling us to help solve their problems.