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Agencies Need to Be Good Stewards of Their Own Brand

Posted by Doug Garnett February - 18 - 2013 - Monday

I’m often amazed at how poorly agencies manage their own marketing – especially their own brand. Look across the ad biz and you’ll find a cacophony of agency names in an ever changing landscape.

You might assume these changes reflect agencies going in and out of business. That’s not usually the truth. There is a tendency in the agency business to chase name fads – a practice that leads to annual or biannual name changing as a matter of course (as in “this year the coolest agency names are based on…insects…so we’re changing our name to FleaBag”). In an amazing act of euphemism, I’ve heard this called “re-branding”.

Truth is, re-branding is the agency version of the announcement of the annual Pantone color of the year which tells us the color for 2013 is Pantone Emerald 17-5641 TCX (link here). I’ll bet if you watch closely this year some agency will use “Emerald” in their agency name and more agencies will add green to their logo’s (or convert all together). Then, keep a keen eye on it and you’ll see them flip to another color in a couple of years.

Except. We ask to become stewards of the world’s largest brands. Those brands need to evolve carefully according to shifts in the market so skirt chasing after fads is destructive. (It’s no accident that the brand names Claude Hopkins’ discussed as important his 1923 book “Scientific Advertising” generally still exist as top brands…and with their same names.)

The agency brands we build need to survive the fads – not flap in the wind with them.

Even International Conglomerate Agencies Make this Mistake. Consider Euro. Last fall Euro RCSG announced that they’re renaming themselves to various flavors of “Havas”. (Link here.)

Read the release and you might think this is pretty reasonable. But I’ve been following names at this global ad giant ever since they bought my former employer in January 2000. It’s been fascinating to watch the amazing, wandering brand…

Step 1 (Jan 2000): My former employer was Tyee. So when they were bought they were named “Euro RCSG Tyee”.

Step 2: After a couple years of operation, Euro bought a media buying company named MCM, combined them, and named the result “Euro RCSG Tyee MCM”. A mouthful, but a reasonable evolution.

Step 3: After a couple more years, they quite publicly announced they were “simplifying” this complex name and changed it to “Euro RCSG 4D DRTV”. Riiiight. Much simpler. Oh, and I couldn’t figure out the 4D part. But what else do bureaucracies do but print business cards?

Step 4: Given a couple more years, it was time for new letterhead again. So under the auspices of simplification they re-branded the operation “Euro RCSG Edge”. Ah, one less word.

Step 5 (Fall 2012): Another couple years have passed and clearly letterhead needs to be replaced. So now their operation will be named “Havas Edge”. Riiiiiiight. That’s really helpful.

Five different names in 12 years. And now a very dramatic change because truthfully they were always just known as “Euro” in the direct response television business. Shifting “Euro” to “Havas” will take years to be effective (I’ve lived through these kinds of name changes before and they’re not pretty).

Observing from a distance my guess is these names are chosen to keep global agency management happy and help accountants allocate expenses to the right pool. They certainly aren’t market focused brands.

Agencies Need to Better Manage Their Own Brands. There are times when a name change makes sense. Unfortunately, I find that agencies love to make radical jumps in naming rather than the brand evolution that is usually far more successful. And some agencies have a 2-year itch – needing a new name every 24 months.

And that leads me to a thought. Through all the agency RFP’s I’ve seen, agencies are never asked to discuss the strategy behind their own brand. This might be a very revealing query since it should be important to uncover inadequate brand management from a company who specializes in… well… brand management.

On the other hand, it would take a very savvy client to review the responses since managing an agency brand is strategically different than managing a CPG brand or a high tech brand. Clients would need to focus on the strategic thinking behind the brand – not seeking something that “looks just like what we want”.

Still, for a smart client, how an agency handles its own brand is critical. And after all, should you really put your billion dollar brand in the hands of a company that can’t keep its own simple brand house in order?

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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Doug Garnett, DRTV and Technology Industry Expert

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of DRTV agency Atomic Direct and a leading expert on innovative uses of DRTV, infomercials and other in-depth TV and non-TV messages to build brand and drive sales.

Doug has been working in and around the technology field for 27 years. After starting in aerospace, he spent 5 years selling and marketing supercomputers. Since shifting to advertising, his clients have included AT&T, IBM, Apple, Disney Mobile, Ugobe, Presto, and Netpliance.

Doug sits on the editorial board of Response Magazine, is an adjunct professor of general advertising at Portland State University, and is a member of the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet Panel.

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