Out of Africa: An Advertising Trek

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MARC BROWNSTEIN: Just arrived home from my trip to South Africa. Unforgettable sights. Wildlife that appear without warning. Warm, hospitable people. Lousy advertising.

My creative director asked me to check out an agency in Johannesburg that reportedly did good work. If they did, it wasn’t on the billboards, TV or print that I saw. When you go to foreign countries, like England, you see daring work. Stuff you wouldn’t likely see in the states. So I was disappointed not to see better work in Africa. I DID see some tasteless erection puns, for a construction company, no less. But that was the extent of the breakthrough work.

Before I left, I talked about how far I would go to develop new business. So, how’d I do?

Turns out, I had to go halfway around the world to meet a CEO from Nebraska who is interested in hiring us. Well, that’s better than having to commute to Cape Town to service a piece of business! So, while it’s still too early to see if the suspect turns into a prospect, and then into a real, live, paying client, I’m glad that my travels may have paid some dividends... beyond personal enjoyment and education.

Something troubling hit home when I was there: business decision makers -- around the globe -- continue to run for the hills when I respond to their question, “And what do you do for a living?” So I did a little test. Sometimes I replied, “I own an advertising agency.” To that, I heard, “Oh, we tried that a couple of times, and wasted a lot of money.”, or “We advertise, but only because we have to.” Or better yet, “All you guys try to jack up the fees.”

Then, since we also have a digital marketing company, I tried a different response: “I own an interactive marketing company.” Amazing how the responses to that are so refreshingly different. “Really? That’s interesting. So, what exactly does an interactive marketing company do?”

Hey, at least there’s interest. They’re giving me the opportunity to make my pitch. Globally, interactive continues to pique the imaginations of marketers. So it was no surprise that the lead in Nebraska is an online one.

Now, if only I can get CEOs to respond the same way to traditional advertising…
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