REINHARD KEEPS PUSHING PERFORMANCE

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K eith Reinhard, the soft-spoken revolutionary of the ad agency business, contends that "any meaningful change is accompanied by an overdose of advocacy."

While that statement helps to explain the silliness in primary election states, what the chairman of DDB Needham was referring to in this case was his fervent espousal of his "guaranteed performance" compensation plan, introduced in 1991. Keith doesn't use the "G" word anymore, but he continues to press for acceptance of pay for performance.

One problem was that brand managers, to save money, tend to downgrade the agency's performance scores. That underlines the fact that it's difficult to come up with a pay formula where advertising is the sole mover of the needle.

But that doesn't keep Keith from trying. A few years ago, the agency experimented with a performance-based scheme for media. Magazines on the schedule for Amtrak were paid extra if their readers' "consideration to take the train" numbers improved. The agency called in 25 magazines; only two said they wouldn't do it. I'm not sure if any got rich because Amtrak ridership didn't improve (although it didn't go down either, which was an improvement).

Keith is basically a creative guy, yet he believes media should be the first consideration after the client picks the target market. "When and where is more important than what and how," he says.

One of DDB Needham's major accounts is Budweiser beer, and the agency has been running some earthy commercials for the "king of beers" featuring ants and frogs that I, in my naivete, thought would be an interim effort until Keith and his crew came up with their usual dynamite stuff, like the "I love you, man" commercials for Bud Light. But the interim ads have turned into a main campaign.

I have chastised the ads, and even went so far as to suggest that Anheuser-Busch trade in Busch Gardens for Starbucks.

As it turns out, that snotty remark wasn't too far off the agency's strategy. "Budweiser had become sort of your dad's beer," Keith admitted. "Our most important job is to make it young, and I think we're meeting with success. It gets talked about....The ants are a metaphor for the old stevedores and industrial workers, but it's done with a younger voice and is more universal." The upshot, Keith maintains, is that Budweiser now is perceived as "younger and more fun."

Keith couldn't resist throwing one more hot potato into our midst. Conflicts-both "banana" conflicts and real ones-"are taking too much time," Keith told me ("banana" conflicts are when the mere mention of a competitor makes the client go bananas).

"What's the threshold" of a client accepting a conflict? Keith asked. "What if we said our agency can produce ads 10 times more effective than Agency B? Would they accept a conflict?"

I said I would pose the question and invite clients to respond.

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