Ironically, Ad Agencies Are Having an Identity Crisis

by Betty Tuppeny on May.03, 2011, under Betty On Branding, Branding, Client Service, Internet Marketing


For those of us in marketing who watch Mad Men, we see a simpler, yet antiquated, ad industry business model. Paid media drives all of the billings and revenue, Public Relations and Market Research are burgeoning, yet-to-be-trusted disciplines, and the internet is a nickname for Betty Draper’s hair curlers covering.

But, in this TV show, the definition of what an ad agency delivers is crystal clear, and to me, always has been. In this seductive reenactment of the early days of the industry, Don Draper’s agency’s role is to understand a client’s business, develop the compelling point of difference for the brand, conceptualize the main campaign idea and then use mass media to turn up the noise level in the market.

It’s still the same today, only now agencies, on behalf of their clients’ brands, have a myriad of traditional and electronic avenues beyond mass media with which to build clients’ brands while keeping an ongoing conversation with their prospects, customers and referrers.

So, the answer to Advertising Age’s April 25, 2011 cover story, “Why Does it Seem Like Agency has become a Dirty Word?” is simple to me. It’s semantics – no matter what you call my company, Domus, Inc., we still have always taken the same approach, both before and since internet marketing became an option: 1) Define the market need, strategically position the client against that need (considering their core competencies and where their competitors are positioned) to create a compelling point of difference; 2) know their target audience(s) demographics, psychographics and media habits; 3) develop the creative concept that breaks through and has “legs” for promotion and longevity; 4) consistently implement a cohesive message; and 5) measure, measure, measure – and adjust accordingly to maximize our clients’ ROI on building not just their brands but, importantly, their businesses.

On the cover of the same issue, Advertising Age also points out that agencies are “ …starting venture funds, buying brands and developing products.” I don’t think this has as much to do with the industry’s identity crisis as much as it has to do with the fact that they need new accounts and revenue streams to survive and thrive, and they are finding more self-reliant, innovative means of accomplishing this objective. Kudos – entrepreneurial approaches helps the agencies as well as their clients and make for a more vibrant industry.

So I can’t resist the notion that, somewhere in a room, a group is brainstorming our industry bible, Advertising Age’s potential new name: some options are: We Brand for you but Can’t Brand Ourselves Age; Former Admen Turned Entrepreneurs Age; First We were an Ad Agency then a Digital Agency and Now a 360 Agency, and my favorite, We Don’t Know Who We Are Age. I suggest it remains Advertising Age and we stop talking to and about ourselves and focus on the clients’ needs in our ever-changing communications world. When marketing decision makers on the client side need help introducing, growing or saving a brand they say either “What does the ‘Agency” think? or “Do we need an new/different ‘Agency” to help us get this done?

If you want to learn about Domus, Inc., visit or call me directly at 215-772-2805. We know who we are and can deliver what you need.

Survey question: Marketing Directors, how do you define what your agency’s role? Do you still use the term agency?”

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