Published on .

The day apple computer announced its ad agency review, its stock sank to the lowest point since BBDO Worldwide won the business in 1986. BBDO West quit rather than defend its account. Two days later, the International Advertising Festival in Cannes named BBDO agency of the year, partly based on work from BBDO West.

This suggests two things: Apple is still in trouble. And BBDO is still a good agency.

And so ends BBDO's 11-year run as Apple's worldwide agency, the longest-standing relationship between a computer company and major agency. But this marriage foundered long ago as distrust and loss of respect for Apple grew within BBDO. In a relationship that had become this dysfunctional, divorce was the better option. Apple and BBDO each can seek a new partner.

By one key measure, Apple didn't exactly prosper under BBDO's watch: Apple's U.S. market share plummeted from 13.8% when the agency came on in 1986 to 3.3% this year. But Apple's problem is not BBDO or advertising. Apple's problem is Apple, crushed by bungled licensing strategies and continual change in marketing and management.

Apple managers must realize the company has a reputation as a difficult client fraught with problems. So while Apple reviews agencies, agencies will be reviewing Apple. This client needs to be candid about what went wrong (and right) with BBDO. It must be clear about strategy, about what the company means when it says it wants a "creative" agency, about how important advertising is to Apple.

It's been years since Apple had a CEO passionate about advertising. It's also been a long time since computer and ad people said Apple's work was best in its category. Apple and BBDO share responsibility; BBDO says the client hasn't been buying its best ideas. Notably, BBDO West's Cannes winnings came for clients other than Apple.

So who lives happily ever after? The odds are BBDO will be back with a major new tech account before too long. And maybe there's an agency out there today cocky, brave and good enough to sell Apple insanely great advertising that would help put the brand back in the game. If only Apple's future looked as clear as BBDO's.

It was encouraging to report in these pages last week that U.S. Food & Drug Administration officials are at least thinking about ending one of advertising's regulatory curiosities. The oddity we speak of is the FDA rule for TV advertising of prescription products that poses this dilemma for advertisers: If you name your product in the ad, you can't say what it does; if you say what it does, you can't name it.

To be fair, that's not entirely true. A TV commercial can name the product and say what it does . . . but only if the commercial's creators can find a way to cram into their :30 or :60 all the warnings and side effects information that fill columns of tiny type in print ads for prescription products.

FDA must continue to require ads for prescription goods to meet tough standards for truth and accuracy. But it must also recognize that its current policies make it ludicrously difficult for consumers to learn in the most widely accessible medium, TV, the most basic information about vital products. Surely high standards for honesty are not inconsistent with rules that would allow advertisers to at least say what their product does.

Advertisers have patiently, and not so patiently, prodded the FDA and Congress for change on this issue. Perhaps even the FDA now sees that the time has come

Most Popular