Agency.com's Viral Account Pitch Blitzes Ad Blogosphere

But Is the Strategy to Win Subway's Work Foolish or Brilliant?

By Published on .

Excuse us for writing long and for encroaching on Bob Garfield's territory. But something simply has to be said about the Agency.com viral that has the advertising blogosphere all atwitter. And since our professionally trained critic is out for the week, the task has fallen to us. (Just to be upfront about it, we're not any nicer than he is.)

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The short version is that Agency.com, as part of a pitch to land the interactive portion of the Subway account, made a 9-minute video of ... well, Agency.com trying to pitch the Subway account.

We can't really fault the bones of the pitch. The creative team, if we are to believe the video, seemed to at least try to get a handle on the brand. They conducted interviews on the street. They tapped into some students at the Miami Ad School. They ordered lots of Subway sandwiches. A couple of Agency.com employees even went to work at Subway. Good research is never a bad idea.
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But then they blew it all by subjecting the rest of the world to a reasonable facsimile of a creative pitch. Just as no one needs to see how the sausage is made, no one needs to see a pitch (even a dramatized one). We're sure these guys, in real life, may be likable, funny, smart. But there is a reason that actors are used in most dramatizations. What we have here seems a parody of an ad agency, a bunch of pseudo-hipsters (or, worse, real hipsters) saying things like "tasked them on the fly" and "You know, if we roll, we roll big." (Which, come to think of it, sounds more like something George W. Bush would say.)

Perhaps these are just creative people trying to speak marketing language, using words that they think the Subway execs might like to hear. Then again, it's a safe bet that you shouldn't have a creative saying of the client -- a client that is the No. 1 sandwich chain and the No. 4 fast-feeder -- "I think they have a lot of potential."

And then there are the moments of pure, undistilled self-absorption, as when Creative Director Kate (no last names were used) has a one-on-one with the camera and tells us, for some inexplicable reason, that a copywriter once called her a "combination between Grace Kelly and Rodney Dangerfield."

What this has to do with selling sandwiches is beyond us. And judging by the resulting video, the entire staff has been endowed with the comedic timing of Grace Kelly and the style and charm of Rodney Dangerfield. Especially charming is when one jokes that Subway pays its employees more than Agency.com pays. (There is an argument to be made that someone who stands on his feet for eight hours at a shot making and serving sandwiches deserves to be paid more than whoever is responsible for this video, but we'll leave that argument for another day.)

The entire exercise is difficult to stomach. What happens in the office is excruciating. The clip of the two Agency.com employees working as sandwich artists doesn't live up to its potential (but at least those two have some practical job experience should things not work out). The one mildly amusing stretch of the video, in which two copywriters take to the streets to interview people about consumers, doesn't begin until the 6:50 mark.

Did we mention that Subway had asked for a 5-minute clip? What would have made a better viral is trimming the entire thing down to the guy with the bandaged nose saying he'd injured himself protecting his Subway sandwich.

But here's the rub.

It has gone sort of viral, if for the wrong reasons. "If we have our way, the whole world's gonna know about it," says Tom, the VP-creative director, early in the video. And later, someone else says, "That's who we are. We take risks."

A lot of people do know about it now. That a 9-minute video on YouTube has been watched over 17,500 times is some sort of accomplishment, we suppose. Then again, you'll find plenty of YouTube and Flickr results for the Sony Bravia ad that hasn't even been finished yet.

And the risk? Apparently 16,000 of those views were other ad industry folks falling on the piece like hyenas on a wounded gazelle. And at least a couple of the other ad blogs, and their commenters, haven't exactly been generous with the praise.

This effort is called "Going to Work for Subway: Part 1," which implies we have a Part 2 to look forward to. And, really, at this point, who in the industry isn't going to watch it.

In the mean time, try to keep up with the spoofs being created. Coudal Partners takes an "unsolicited" stab (at both Agency.com and Subway's offerings). Someone gives the spot a Benny Hill treatment. And, there's now even a t-shirt.

A t-shirt? What next? Action figures. By next week, this effort could be seen as the best thing since the Subservient Chicken.

Or not.
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