Mad Men-era adman Jerry Della Femina once said that advertising is “the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” But then, Jerry Della Femina is a well-known liar.
Because that’s always been advertising’s reputation. Advertising agents make up all kinds of crazy stuff to get you to buy their clients’ shoddy products. Advertising is a disreputable business, down there with used car sales. French adman Jacques Seguela wrote a book called Don’t Tell My Mother I’m In Advertising–She Thinks I Play Piano in a Whorehouse.
Because of the air of disrepute that’s always hung around them (and, frankly, for other reasons), ad agencies have looked for other things to call themselves. When I started in advertising in the 1980s, ad agencies were calling themselves “marketing communications companies.” It sounded less sleazy than advertising and was probably a better description of the breadth of services agencies provided. But it didn’t read very quickly. If you told someone you worked for a marketing communications company, their typical response was, “What’s that?” To which the best response was, “Well, we’re like an ad agency.”
It’s true: Advertising is too limiting, especially in this day and age. Most of what Well Done Marketing does is not traditional advertising. We still do lots of television commercials and print ads and billboards and radio. But we do even more website building and web content. And we do all sorts of brand studies and positioning/messaging projects that are less like copywriting and more like business consulting.
And we, like most of the other companies in town who do the kind of work we do, have had to evolve to survive. The old ad agencies that never understood digital marketing are gone. The digital shops that don’t understand traditional marketing won’t survive, either. The Internet changed everything, and when everything changes, it’s fair to ask whether what you call what you do should change, too.
For a long time, I didn’t know how to describe Well Done Marketing. About 80 percent of our work was on the Internet. Were we a web shop? Were we a digital communications company? Mostly? Writing has always been a core competency and a differentiator for us. Were we a content shop?
It all seemed too limiting. Really, what we did was a combination of marketing consulting and creative services and production and copywriting and design and web development. And when people asked me what Well Done Marketing did, what I ultimate said was, “Basically, we’re like an ad agency.”
Well. If I’ve learned anything in all my years in the business, it’s this:
If you have a big nose, paint it red.
In other words, don’t hide the first thing people notice when they see you, even if it’s not classically beautiful. Call attention to it. Be that big nose.
Ad agencies are still disreputable. This Gallup study from last year on honesty and ethics in professions shows “advertising practitioners” at the bottom, keeping company with the likes of “state office holders” and “members of Congress.”
But we know ourselves and our standards. We don’t lie on behalf of our clients. We don’t stretch the truth. We help them find the best ways to communicate who they really are to the people who can really benefit from their products or services.
Sure: sometimes we do funny or outlandish things to get people’s attention. But that’s the sort of fun Jerry Della Femina was talking about. We get paid to come up with crazy ideas–but also to be crystal-clear in communicating them. Sometimes it’s a blast. Sometimes it’s a puzzle. It’s rarely boring.
And when it comes right down to it, if we were advising Well Done Marketing, we’d say, “You’re an ad agency. Just say that. People understand what that means. You don’t have to go fumbling for explanations. Paint that big nose red.”
Hello. We’re Well Done Marketing. We’re an ad agency.