After 15 years in the ad business, I quit in frustration. I got tired of asking "Why would a customer choose our client's product over competitors' versions?" and receiving blank stares from my account directors.
Now Yum Brands' KFC is introducing a dose of reality into its advertising. At least, that's the idea. They're going to have customers conceive and produce their own KFC spots on home video ("KFC to public: make our spots," The Week, AA, Sept. 8).
KFC's public relations team actually came up with this idea and, on that level, it's already been a success. After all, I heard about it-and I live in Paris.
The ad business is still well behind every curve. The audiences for "reality" TV have been declining for years. The only thing keeping reality shows on TV is the fact that they are dirt cheap to produce.
What bugs me the most is that Yum's marketing MBAs, finding they needed an ad campaign between agencies (the account's in review), would think, "No problem. Anyone can do it." Why do they think that? Because after years of watching ad agencies at work, that's the conclusion they've drawn. Agencies chop and change strategy, creative teams and executions in response to-or even in anticipation of-the most transient client whim.
I can hear ad guys criticizing me already for writing this. They'll say, "What does he care? He quit. He's out."
But mark my words: When KFC's short list of agencies present for the account, they'll all be asked, "What did you think of our `reality' campaign?"
And they'll all say, "Oh, we loved it!"
They should be forced to eat a diet of nothing but KFC popcorn chicken.
Mr. Gardiner, a former ad agency copywriter and creative director in Canada and the U.S., left the advertising business to pursue motorcycle racing and is the subject of the 2003 documentary film "One Man's Island," recording his 2002 race in Europe's Isle of Man TT.
Rothenberg knows little of ad schools
So Randall Rothenberg says don't hire creatives from ad schools because they simply teach what worked before? ("Eight basic steps to reform today's creative department," Viewpoint, AA, Aug. 4.) How little he knows about ad schools.
The best ones teach their students to think in new ways and to try new ideas, to work in different, unexpected media and to see things from many angles. I graduated from Miami Ad School and now I work in the interactive field, doing many non-traditional agency things. I owe my abilities in this area to what I learned at Miami.
I do notice a disturbing trend among bad agencies to force creatives back into "the box" because it's cheaper to generate work that way, it's easier to sell work to clients that way and there are fewer challenges to the status quo that way. That's the fault of agencies, not ad schools. The smart agencies-the ones that hire from the good ad schools and then let those creatives do what they're trained to do-these are the agencies that are not in the rut Mr. Rothenberg refers to.
Creative department cannot escape blame
Re: Richard Calderhead's "Don't blame the poor creative department" (Letters to the Editor, Viewpoint, AA, Sept. 1), responding to Randall Rothenberg's column "Eight basic steps to reform today's creative department" (Viewpoint, AA, Aug. 4). Mr. Calderhead states: "Ads are the way they are because clients are the way they are and apparently wish to remain. If they want better work, they'll find a way to get it."
This is nonsense. So many ads are lousy today because the agencies produce poor work for their clients. It's our job to recommend to our clients; we are supposed to be the experts. In the glory days of advertising, there were many who fought for original, creative advertising. And some in places you might not have expected. At the great Dancer Fitzgerald Sample agency, I went to Cliff Fitzgerald and asked his help in selling what I thought was a great idea to Procter & Gamble. After he saw it, he set up a meeting in Cincinnati. Cliff said, "We have to welcome new ideas. Even if they finally don't work, we've got to keep the creative juices flowing."
Where are those creative juices now? The plethora of poor, imitative car commercials suggests they have run dry. Are we less creative now? No. What we have now is an abundance of wise-ass advertising by young creatives who don't seem to care if anybody understands their commercials, [creatives] who would likely rather be writing plays or for films or TV. Perhaps that's why there's so much production value in today's commercials and so little selling.
The Rodd Group
* In "Regional titles form ad network" (Sept. 1, P. 8) Emmis Communications' Los Angeles and Texas Monthly, named as members of a new City and Regional Magazine Network by the network's organizers, are not participating in the network, officials at the magazines said. The officials said the two titles are considering working with the network on an ad hoc basis.