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For operating in a business built on positioning brands, ad agencies do precious little to position themselves these days.

The result is a perception of homogeneity for the agencies as it is for the most staid package-goods categories. But unlike agencies, the package-goods marketers continue to appreciate differentiation-whether real or imagined-as the only thing keeping their brands from becoming commodities.

The agencies once shared their appreciation through a series of agency campaigns and slogans. But as more recent evidence shows, the consistent agency campaigns do not exist anymore and the current one-shot approaches do not distinguish the agency brands.

The New York chapter of the American Marketing Association, which polled its members, learned that the "Unique Selling Proposition" of Ted Bates Advertising (now Bates Worldwide) is the only agency slogan that retains anything approaching customer recognition. In a distant second: "Reach for the stars" and "We get results." The former from Leo Burnett Co. is retained no better than the Dean Gamanos Retele boutique's.

Pat McGrath, chairman of Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, personifies the trend away from advertising by those who create it. He made agency advertising history in 1974 by buying every spot on the first half-hour of "Murder, My Sweet" to show his reel after prompting marketing pros to look for it in a page ad in that day's New York Times. And though Banquet Foods was the only client "absolutely" netted by the effort, he did it again in 1984.

"I would do it again," Mr. McGrath insists, "but only if I have something specific to say about my agency. All agencies now make the same claims-exceptionally creative, efficient media buyers and beyond reproach the root of account services and planning."

Almost sounds like McGrath is already in the commodity biz. Could advertising make a difference? Shops preach this to clients every day. Maybe they should practice what they preach.

Dave Vadehra is president of Video Storyboard Tests.

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