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Crispin Porter: Generating Discord, Loathing and Laughter

But Hardly the 'Enemy' Many View Them As

By Published on . 12

Crispin haters seem to be enjoying the hotshop feeling the heat.

OK, so the only marketer to actually exit the agency recently is small-spending Method -- oh, how the Mad Ave.
Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter of Crispin Porter & Bogusky. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter of Crispin Porter & Bogusky. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
or Wacker Drive giants would love to have that be the only departure from their client ranks -- but VW is odds-on to park a piece of its account at another shop sometime soon, given that the automaker recently jettisoned its director-brand innovation and chief Crispin advocate, Kerri Martin. Any way you dress up that loss, it'd hurt a whole lot.
Criticizing Crispin
Meanwhile the industry's favorite pastime, criticizing Crispin, has been ratcheted up to a mass-participation blood sport. First there was the dog-shit-in-the-hand ad for Haggar, which our resident ad reviewer, Bob Garfield, somehow decided was tantamount to terrorism. Then last week Miller killed the Crispin-created "Man Laws" campaign, which failed to move cases of Lite. Now there's an army of ad critics lambasting that awful Orville Deadenbacher resurrection.

The Orville ad has the worst ever rating of any spot chosen for AdCritic, with 82% of the 199 people who've commented on the spot tagging it "actively annoying." And the comments on both AdAge.com and AdCritic regularly hit vitriolic notes that seem to be reserved only for Messrs. Porter and Bogusky. R.E. Tomek, from Albuquerque, for example, had this to say: "Three words: One. Trick. Pony. ... I haven't seen anything truly fresh, creative and effective come out of that shop since the days of Mini. ... Everything has been an increasingly retarded variation on the same infantile, cartoonish crap. The emperor needs new clothes."

Visceral reactions
Ironically, such visceral reactions underline the power of Crispin's work and its value to certain types of marketers (especially the kind of strugglers Crispin has specialized in resuscitating). Crispin puts brands in the conversation, and that's worth doing: Today the power of a message delivered from marketer to consumer pales next the power of a message delivered from consumer to consumer.

Some critics will continue to analyze every TV spot in isolation from the rest of the campaign, as if a 30-second ad should abide only by old-world rules about well-articulated sales points. But brand managers operate in a new world, a world in which those well-articulated sales points rarely get heard because the mediocre morass of most of today's ads simply blends into the commercial clutter -- a one-way waste of marketers' money. With all the complexities of a marketing chief's job today, many say their biggest worry is simply whether anyone actually hears their message or talks about their brand.

Ads as events
Crispin ads aren't relatively inoffensive little sales presentations like so many of today's spots. They are an event in and of themselves, almost always getting a brand noticed. One of the popular myths is that the shop is somehow a PR miracle worker, able to get publications like this one to write about everything it does, but it's been years since anyone there pitched a story. That's not how they operate. And they don't have to, because the work does the job. We know it'll make good story fodder, drawing big traffic numbers and lots of passionate comments from readers.

And I love those comments -- it's refreshing to see discord, loathing and laughter in a marketing world policed by procurement officers, lawyers and regulators. But it did strike me how narrowly people look at these ads -- and even the ad industry. Not only are they not judging the spots in the context of digital-driven fragmentation or chronic commercial clutter, but many seem to regard Crispin as an enemy. It isn't. In fact, with all the threats to ad agencies today, Crispin's the closest thing they've got to a friend: a shop that's proving that ad agencies' stock in trade, the TV commercial or the print ad, can still get a reaction.
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