The day your ad-firm wins a Clio, fire them

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ads clio

I am a hyper-creative person. It’s in my blood. It’s what fuels me.

But, when it comes to creating marketing messages for my businesses or those of clients, I often have to touch base with the real reason I am writing or otherwise creating. And, for that, I often turn back to a quote that keeps me pointing in the right direction:

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I do not want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said ‘How well he speaks.” But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, “Let us march against Philip.’

No doubt, the fact that, for years I have been my own client, it’s been my money at stake, my businesses on the line, has had an indelible effect. There is no greater motivation to create marketing that sells than being the one left holding the goods when a pretty, creative, witty campaign gains accolades, but fails in its essential mission.

The same person who shared the above quote, added a few sentences later:

In saying this, I run the risk of being denounced by the idiots who hold that any advertising technique which has been in use for more than two years is ipso facto obsolete….There have always been noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business.

Their stock in trade includes ethnic humor, eccentric art direction, contempt for research, and their self-proclaimed genius. They are seldom found out, because they gravitate to the kind of clients who, bamboozled by their rhetoric, do not hold them responsible for sales results….

In the days when I specialized in posh campaigns for The New Yorker, I was the hero of this coterie, but when I graduated to advertising in mass media and wrote a book which extolled the value of research, I became its devil. I comfort myself with the reflection that I have sold more merchandise than all of them put together.

Can you guess who I was quoting?

Share who you think it was in the comments below (I’ll post the person’s name later tonight or tomorrow).

And, also let me know what you think about that person’s message.

On-target. Wildly off-base and old-school?

What do you guys think?

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14 responses

14 responses to “The day your ad-firm wins a Clio, fire them”

  1. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a commercial that I think is really well-done or innovative, yet totally can’t remember who it’s for.

    Totally unlike the “Bud. Weis. Er.” frog commercial.

  2. Erg says:

    I hate these guess who said it things. Luckily, I do happen to know that this one was David Ogilvy.

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Hayden – Me too, entertaining does not always equal selling

    @ Erg – Bingo! Nice call, it was the big man himself, David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather.

  4. Kelly says:


    I’ve read this one before, too. It’s super. The answer to your question is, more on-target than ever, at a time when more marketing dollars than ever are wildly off-target.

    Another great one for the “make it pay or don’t do it” school of thought is Your Marketing S–ks, which you’ve probably read. Not a day goes by when I don’t wish I kept a crate of the book to hand out. His idea that not another dollar should go out until you know which dollars are returning more is genius, simplicity, and what every small business owner (and medium, and large) needs to hear.

    Great post!



  5. My company used an advertising agency in Little Rock for several years, paying them millions. They brought absolutely nothing to the table. Every ad was beautiful, but did not pull or push any customers into the stores. We used to joke that WE were interested in winning sales while THEY were interested in winning awards.

    The CEO loved them though. It took about 2 or 3 years, but he was finally persuaded to give them up.

  6. Lane says:

    I just bought a small monthly newspaper and am responsible for doing the editing and selling ads. Now I’m afraid to recommend to advertisers that they use ads that measure response! [grin]

  7. I believe David Ogilvy also said, “clients get the advertising they deserve.” It turns out this is not a one way street. Clients are not the poor, unfortunate victims of the agency’s desire to foist creative but ultimately worthless advertising on them. They are just as much to blame as the agency for bad advertising.

    I have some experience in advertising. I was the art director on the original “Max Headroom” campaign for New Coke. I worked on the Saturn Launch campaign. I’ve worked on Levi’s, BMW, Clorox, Pepsi, and many others.

    Creativity which is self serving ends up helping no one. But very creative advertising can and does work hard for the client. Because advertising is not solely created to “sell” things, though that is certainly part of it’s purpose. In an environment where many competing products or services are indistinguishable from one another, a creative ad campaign can help elevate one company’s offerings from another’s. Certainly Coke and Pepsi are essentially identical. In blind taste tests it’s virtually impossible to tell one from the other (you may protest, but it’s true – in a three way blind taste-test most people choose Royal Crown Cola as their favorite!) They are distinguished solely by their advertising.

    And while testing is a useful tool, it’s also a limited and limiting tool. People are by nature conservative. I often been in focus groups where we’ve shown what we consider to be innovative, exciting advertising but the subjects dismiss the work with a, “Just give me facts. I don’t want all that creative crap.” But when you just run the facts the ad will be ignored. People want to be given something in return for their attention. Typically that’s entertainment. The challenge is to entertain as well as communicate. It can and does happen.

    A good client is one who has a clear idea of the goals of the advertising. They know their target and they know their product. They work together (very important word) with the agency to make great EFFECTIVE advertising happen. Agencies will push hard to get what they consider to be their strongest creative out there. The client’s responsibility is to make sure it does the job. Does it communicate? Is it on message brand-wise? Does it appeal to the target? Does it stand out?

    It’s absurd to suggest that winning awards is somehow an indication that the agency is not doing it’s job. One of the most creative, successful and award winning agencies is Goodby, Silverstein in San Francisco. Clients love them because they create advertsing that works hard, stands out and oh, by the way wins awards by the truckload. We’re all familiar with the “Got Milk” campaign. These days you can’t walk down the street without seeing someone wearing a “Got XXX” t-shirt or a similar bumper sticker. That campaign hasn’t run for years but you can’t escape it! (perhaps you didn’t have it on the East Coast – but it was huge in the West).

    So yes, take responsibility for your advertising. But don’t be afraid of creativity, even outrageous creaqtiviely – it can serve you well, just as it has served countless others.

  8. Walt Goshert says:


    During my “corporate” years, I witnessed Award-winning, ego-based advertising blow millions of dollars.

    Now, when I’m the guy writing the check, as a small business owner only one thing matters:


    Arthur, you obviously come from a different school of thought.

    Is testing limited to focus groups? Hell, people lie in focus groups because they’re in a social setting vs. voting at the moment of truth…individually pulling out their credit card and buying.

    Cool… “Got milk” t-shirts. How much damn milk did the ads sell?

    “Think Outside the Box”… as long as You Overflow my Box with $100 Bills,


  9. Walt –

    I don’t think you read my post very carefully. What I said was that while there are certainly examples of “Award-winning, ego-based advertising blowing millions of dollars” there are also many (more) examples of award-winning advertising that was very effective. I’ve worked on some of them. They got the results the client hoped for and more.

    If testing were an infallible tool there would be no bad products or advertising, for that matter. Testing would reveal their flaws before they hit the shelves – or the air. Clearly this isn’t the case – the shelves are flooded with products that vanish just as quickly as they appear.

    In a world in which there are literally hundreds of beverage choices, the point of the “Got Milk” campaign was to raise awareness of milk and make it an important part of the consumer’s consideration set. It was very successful at doing that.

    I also pointed out that good, effective advertising happens when clients and agencies partner to make it happen. It doesn’t get done in a vacuum. Clients are not helpless victims of the agency’s heinous plan to relieve them of their marketing dollars by creating bad advertising. Apart from anything else, it doesn’t make good business sense for the agency.

    And clients who are combative, resentful and suspicious of the agency’s motives are not likely to get the agency’s best work. Ultimately the client is the one who has to shoulder the responsibility for an unsuccessful advertising campaign. It is in the client’s own best interest to partner with the agency to get the best possible work. Of course, it’s also important to have a good product. As the saying goes, nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.


  10. Walt Goshert says:


    And,like wise,I wonder,did you read Jonathan’s post and Oglivy’s quotes?

    ““Got Milk” campaign was to raise awareness of milk and make it an important part of the consumer’s consideration set. It was very successful at doing that.”

    “…important part of the consumer’s consideration set” How do you know? More focus groups?

    You failed to answer my question.

    Did it sell more milk?

    The fact is, since the ads were never tested and aren’t tracked…

    No one knows. No one is accountable.

    Now,if my expectation was increased sales of milk, I agree with Jonathan…

    Fire the agency.

    Been there…bought the “Got Milk” t-shirt,


    P.S.— Arthur, I do agree from a Public Relations standpoint of “Creating awareness”, the “Got Milk” campaign appears successful. But, in the context Jonathan presents here of Advertising meaning “Selling stuff”…seems like there are unanswered questions. But, even Public Relations campaigns at some point must result in increased sales… no matter how creative.

  11. Walt –

    You will note that in my two posts I made it clear that I am NOT a fan of research. It certainly has a place in the advertising and marketing toolset, but I would hardly use it to determine whether an advertising campaign had been successful.

    I know about the “Got Milk” campaign because I asked a colleague at Goodby. Was he biased? Perhaps. On the other hand, that campaign ran for a long time. Do you suppose that the Milk Board was too stupid to recognize that they were being snowballed by an agency determined to do ineffective but “creative” advertising at the client’s expense?

    What I take exception to is the blanket dismissal of anything creative, entertaining or award winning in advertising as “ego driven” and not effective at “overflowing the box with $100 bills.” Jonathan said that “if your agency wins a Clio, fire them.” This is patent nonsense. I would say, “if your agency is unresponsive and the advertising they are creating is ineffective, fire them.” However, if you keep hiring agencies and the advertising keeps being bad, there is an excellent chance that the problem lies with you, the client, and not with the agency.

    What do you do if the agency is creating advertising that sells and they win a Clio with it (this actually happpens – more often than you apparently think!) what do you do then? Do you fire them?


  12. An addendum – in my first paragraph I meant to say that I wouldn’t use focus groups to determine an ad campaign’s success or failure.


  13. Walt Goshert says:


    “Do you suppose that the Milk Board was too stupid to recognize that they were being snowballed by an agency determined to do ineffective but “creative” advertising at the client’s expense?”


    This IS the problem.

    Clients, small and large do not understand marketing.

    They don’t understand, as I pointed out, the different objectives between raising awareness through Public Relations and Advertising which increases sales.


    No one is accountable for RESULTS.

    Not the client. Not the ad agency.


    P.S.— you take exception with Jonathan’s headline? Don’t you appreciate its creativity…and advertising effectiveness? Got your attention, didn’t it?

  14. This is nonsense. In fact, clients and agencies are held accountable. How do you support a claim like, “No one is accountable for RESULTS?”

    Anyone can write a headline that says, for example, “Free Money’ or “Free Sex” which will get attention. But that doesn’t make it true. Or effective. If Jonathan’s goal had been to get me to consider him to do my advertising, that headline reduced my desire to do that. Now, I know his goal is start a dialog about this subject and in that he has (clearly!) been successful.

    I do think we may be speaking about apples and oranges here, however. My experience is with mega brands at enormous agencies. Believe me, clients and agencies ARE held accountable. Jobs are lost, agencies are fired, products fail – and there are spectacular successes. Most of the smartest people I know work in advertising or marketing (and I know a LOT of smart people). It’s intense and there ARE consequences for failure.

    Clients of the more local variety have different needs and their resources are more limited. There is no room for error – if they can only afford one ad or direct mail campaign it HAS to work, so one is inclined to be more conservative in approach. But I think it’s a mistake to dismiss the work of agencies for large clients because what they do wouldn’t work for small ones.

    There are “horses for courses” as an old boss of mine used to say.