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Michelin in advertising?

The other day I was watching a documentary on the Michelin Star program.

This is apparently how it works: Michelin has a dozen or so ‘inspectors’ who are anonymous. They visit a stack of restaurants through the year. Around the end of January they grade them by giving, or not, stars. The night before the announcement, which happens, through the publication of their Michelin Guide. It is a pretty simple system. (Yes there are some additional layers of complexity which are not relevant to the point I am making, so I am not talking about it here).

Chefs around the world wait with bated breath in the last weekend of January to see if their name is included, or dropped from the previous years guide.

One of the ‘starred’ chefs was asked why the ‘Star’ mattered so much.

His response : It is a recognition of my craft. From a business perspective it gets more customers in through the door, and I can charge a premium.

Very familiar words for those of us in the advertising industry right?

There is a similar ‘craze’ for awards. Awards are a recognition for the craft, and agencies that win awards usually get better talent and have a better track record at attracting new businesses.

However the similarity doesn’t seem to carry itself into premium pricing or actual respect for the craft from the clients, which is really odd and jarring at the same time.

If I hark back to the Michelin Star Restaurant analogy for a minute. Customers pick the Michelin Star restaurant to dine in, of their own choice because of the expectation of high quality food. But that is the only real decision they make for the rest of the experience. They have to eat what the chef has decided she/he is going to be serving that day. Consumer it in the way she has conceived the dish and at the timing of her choice. The diners personal preference doesn’t count at all. At the end of the experience, as that is really, what it is you leave happy and lighter by several thousand dollars.

That is what I mean by respect.

I have yet to see that translated in the agency business. There is no respect for anyone, no matter how awarded the person is. The copy could always be written differently, the blouse could always be a little more blue, the type size could always be a little more blue etc.

And the comments don’t have to come from a senior person, as there is democracy in feedback!

What is wrong?

The talent that works in agencies are as much craftsmen as they are scientists.

Most of them are well respected and have good track records.

But none of that seems to matter at a ‘presentation’.

The comment of ‘Finally it is your money, so I’ll give you what you pay for’ doesn’t hold. A Michelin star restaurant also gets its customers to pay but they pay for what the chef  lays on the table.

This week one of the most popular articles was the one on ‘Creative exodus in Adland’ in AdAge. The under current seems to be the ‘lack of respect’.

What can be done, if anything?

The awards : In a restaurant the star is given for the quality of the food and the service. No one gets a star because they have interesting shaped plates, or great paintings or even that they have a great glazed asparagus starter. It is for the meal. That is the craft being recognised. The last couple of years has seen a lot of debate around ‘scam’ ads. This is the equivalent of the glazed asparagus. Yes it is a dish, but not a meal. A scam ad is an ad, but not an advertising campaign. The purpose of all advertising is to sell. That is the only reason clients advertise. So if we are calling them advertising awards, then lets award advertising. Even at the Oscars no awards are given for a ‘Great scene’ or ‘Great song’. You get for ‘Best performance’

The judges : The anonymous Michelin inspectors gives huge credibility to the award. They could be anyone and they could come anytime. This drives consistency. In the agency world often the juries are full of agency folks themselves, and they are widely published. I am not for a moment suggesting they are corruptible or influenced, but it gives an air of agency people awarding other agency people. Perhaps we widen this jury? Maybe consumers are pulled in to the decision process, like the Michelin inspectors or it is widened to members of the advertising industry like ‘Members of the Academy’. Distribute the votes wider to ensure fairer representation?

No matter what many clients may say cynically about awards, they serve an important purpose in terms of recognizing the craft and are here to stay.

Perhaps a few minor tweaks that give them credibility will help in adding stature and respect to the agency professional.

I am sure there are many thoughts on this and maybe some will come in response this post?

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