Who really has answers about how to do it best? Brand agencies or below-the-line shops?
Think how each grew up. General agencies built great brand-advertising shops, then tried to bring in full integration underneath. Be-low-the-line shops added research, planning, media and creative people and simply moved from direct and promotional marketing to full integration of digital, event and other below-the-line specialties-with an understanding of the role of branding in all disciplines.
When it comes to integration today, the brand agencies still want to control strategy. But the below-the-line agencies are closer to the consumer through databases and segmentation.
Who really understands consumers better? The general agencies, or us, the below-the-line shops? Maybe sometimes us? Sometimes them? Maybe it's time to stop arguing and come up with a new playbook.
For some categories or brands, it makes more sense for the general agency to lead the way, while the below-the-line agency should take the pilot's chair with others. I like to call this a "seismic tweak" to the way we have traditionally done business.
Let's classify agencies into three types.
* General, classic brand advertising agencies (such as Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe or McCann-Erickson Worldwide).
* Below-the-line (BTL) shops doing full BTL integration (such as Interpublic's Draft and WPP Group's Wunderman).
* Full-integration agencies, where above- and-below-the-line disciplines work seamlessly (such as Interpublic's Deutsch).
In looking at some leading brand categories, I believe one type of agency can't be best for leading every type of client all of the time.
There are times when the general agency should lead.
Package goods: The general agency has proved itself here, with promotion in support.
Home improvement: While general agencies should lead, BTL helps build customer loyalty.
Fast food: Promotion is key, but the branding agency should lead. When looking at current fast-food category leaders, some have relied so heavily on promotions they have forgotten the importance of the brand.
Mass merchandisers: Most have it right already; the general agency should lead.
But there are other times when the BTL agency should lead.
Wireless: This is a highly transactional category, where BTL agencies shine. You need very little pure brand advertising in this category anymore.
Computers: Look at Dell. Direct leads. It's not happened yet with Dell's top competitors, but they should be led by a transactional agency, followed by branding.
Airlines: It's possible airlines, many of which are focusing on above-the-line advertising post-9/11, are missing the boat. They'd be better served to focus on an integrated BTL effort to get consumers back on planes.
Insurance: I'd flip the way that matters are handled now in this highly transactional category, mostly by general agencies, and give the lead to BTL shops.
In some cases, the full-integration agency should lead.
Financial services: Full-integration makes the most sense here, with simultaneous brand and transactional advertising.
Autos: Branding comes first, but ultimately it's about building loyalty, and BTL does that best. Full-integration requires the general agency driving new customers to the brand, then branded direct marketing and promotion resells the next car within the franchise.
Pharmaceuticals: The same model for cars applies here. Branding for the introduction and then build loyalty and compliance immediately.
With confidence that full-integration is the path to follow, earlier this year we at Draft formed a strategic alliance with Lowe that we call Lowe Plus Draft. "Plus" is acting as a unifying bridge between our organizations, helping to craft solution-neutral, fully integrated programs while recognizing and helping to channel the respective strengths of Lowe and Draft-not for the good of the individual operating unit, but for the good of the brand.
This new integration model has raised many tough questions, and we don't have all the answers. But we're working through them. It's evident that what will make our alliance work is clear leadership, respect and an understanding of everyone's discipline and the needs of the client.
We may finally be on the right path to the future. Will anyone follow? We'll see.
Howard Draft is chairman-CEO of Interpublic's Draft, Chicago.