Monday, January 08, 2007

Ad Age's Article on the "Consumer" As Agency of the Year

Via e-mail correspondence Jim Nail encouraged me to check out an AdAge article that named the "consumer" as Agency of the Year. In his blog post, Jim was critical of the piece saying that it missed the point of consumer control. In response to the following line that appears in the AdAge article...

The question for 2007 will be whether marketers and agencies find ways to harness that consumer-bred creativity...and deploy it to the service of brands.
... Jim writes that...

In other words, big corporations and brands still have the power, they only let the consumer have the illusion they have the power. The marketer may not be able to give the consumer a creative brief and tell them what to do, but if they are wiley enough, they can still manipulate, cajole, fool, and bribe the consumer to do what they want.

... and continued by saying:
The lesson Ad Age missed -- and that marketers should focus on -- is how to harness consumer-bred creativity and deploy it to the service of those consumers, by listening and learning what the consumer says makes for a great brand, then delivering it in real, differentiated, meaningful features and benefits.
I feel Jim has a valid point. All along the AdAge article is ostensibly talking about the power of the consumer and not the agency, but then seems to switch gears and talk about how consumer content can be assimilated into the brand, which the article suggests is ultimately controlled by the agency. The article reminds me of a classic process of hegemony whereby a dominant institution seeks to co-opt ideas and practices in ways to maintain its position of dominance. There seems little emphasis at all in the article about the process of listening, dialogue, and understanding to meet mutual needs, which would suggest a more equitable, dialogic, and mutually beneficial relationship between companies and customers.

I've really enjoyed AdAge over the past year as it has given a lot of wonderful coverage to word-of-mouth marketing and consumer generated media, especially in articles by Matthew Creamer and Jonah Bloom. But I think this article in particular fell prey to the title of the publication in which it appeared. As much as the article sought to escape from assumptions bound up in the age of advertising, it seemed unable to wrest itself from its grip.

One area where I do agree with the AdAge article is in the following point about the agency being dislpaced from its center:
What it does mean, however, is that big agencies -- great companies that once cast long shadows over corporate America -- are losing more of their control within a marketing process that for decades they have dominated. They're already being squeezed by procurement departments and jostled by media companies and nibbled at by a host of other kinds of agencies that grew in importance as TV ceased to be the only game in town.
For other views on the AdAge article see Peter Kim's and Jaffee Juice's blog posts on the same topic.