Is advertising a magic wand?

August 19, 2017

Is advertising a magic wand?

Clients engage advertising agencies to make a marked difference in their business. They'll seek to increase brand awareness, sell products or services, encourage donations or support for a cause, or promote an event. Whether your client articulates it or not, there will be an expectation of success behind every discussion and every project commission. The question then becomes, what exactly is your client expecting advertising to do for their business, and is that expectation realistic?

Let's consider the marketing mix: product, price, promotion, packaging, place, positioning, and people. Advertising agencies may have some influence on all these factors at some time or other, but the main areas where an agency has input are ‘promotion’ and ‘positioning’ (and possibly ‘packaging’ if your agency gets involved in packaging design). 

Promotion refers to all the ways your client will tell their customers about their product or service, and how they will market to them. Positioning refers to how the product or service is positioned in the minds and hearts of their customers; and how people think and talk about their company, brand, products, etc.   

If you notice, there are five other areas that are outside the remit of the typical advertising agency. 

  • You most likely won't have anything to do with the creation, development or production of the product/service.  
  • You won't set the price for the product/service, nor will you have any control on how external forces affect pricing, or the ability or willingness for consumers to pay the asking price. 
  • Another agency may be commissioned to work on the design for the packaging, or you may need to work with packaging that has been in the marketplace for a while. 
  • Very rarely would you have any influence on the place where the product/service is sold (unless sales are part of an experiential activity or in-store campaign); nor will you have control over the salespeople responsible for selling the product/service to the customer. 
  • People is the area you will have the least control over. These are the people both inside and outside of your client's business who are responsible for every element of sales, marketing and other business activities. Whilst you will be able to control the people within your own agency and have influence over your agency/client relationship, you have no control over the myriad of other people who make daily decisions that affect the future of the product/service that you are promoting. 

It is a reality that clients will, on occasion, look to their agency (be it advertising, design, experiential, media or PR) for a wand to wave over their business problems in the hope that they will all magically go away. No matter how good an agency's campaign may be, there are too many other variables in the marketing mix to be able to promise, guarantee or even surmise an outcome. 


For example:

Acme Agency's client is XYZ - a chain of quick-service burger restaurants. XYZ releases one or two new products every 8-12 weeks. Each release requires a through-the-line campaign strategy and at least 20 pieces of point of sale collateral. XYZ relies on each campaign to generate a pre-determined number of sales and achieve a pre-determined level of revenue (neither figure of which Acme Agency has a hand in setting). 

Most campaigns return moderate-to-disappointing results, and so (as you would expect) XYZ questions the strategic thinking and execution of the campaigns. The Acme Agency account manager checks her team’s brief, research, planning, and creative and is satisfied that they have done the best job possible within the allocated campaign budget and retainer agreement.  

Acme Agency also identifies a number of wider marketing and operational issues that could impact the success of each campaign: 

  • Outdated stores (interior and exterior) when compared to XYZ’s competitors. 
  • A small number of stores in out-of-the-way locations. 
  • A saturated marketplace with strong competition. 
  • An old brand that has lost relevance with the younger generation. 
  • Mismatched (old and new) brand presence throughout the stores. 
  • Front-line staff who are paid a minimum wage and who rarely look happy. 
  • Food presentation that does not match the advertised imagery. 
  • Average-tasting food. 
  • Pricing that is perceived to be expensive compared to competitors. 
  • A very small advertising budget. 

The owner of XYZ pragmatically acknowledges that they have some internal issues that are not easy to solve, yet they continue to look to advertising as a proverbial magic wand that will achieve the desired sales figures.

This type of story is common within the advertising and communication industry.


The success of a campaign can also be affected by external forces that are outside of anyone's control, such as: 

  • The early onset of cold weather during an ice-cream campaign. 
  • A national financial crisis during a push to sell top-end cars. 
  • A social media scandal surrounding a celebrity who endorses your client’s hero product. 
  • A media article that shows ingredients in your client's product may be cancer-causing. 

The most brilliant of campaigns can be ambushed by one of a multitude of factors that lie outside of your agency's control. Therefore you, your team and your client need to be very clear and realistic about expectations, deliverables and expected ROI (unless, of course, you do happen to have a magic wand in your back pocket).



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