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Michelin in advertising?

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

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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Of awards

November 22, 2009 1 comment

Last years Top 3 Oscars awards went thus

Best film : Slumdog Millionaire

Best actor: Sean Penn for Milk

Best actress : Kate Winslett for Reader

The respective global revenues, to date, for the films are USD 160Mn, USD 54Mn, USD 106Mn.

Not bad for movies that cost about a fourth of the returns.

What I realise is that everyone has a stake in ensuring the albums or the films win awards.

Of course there is the matter of pride that a jury of one’s peers has voted the artist or the studio as the best.

But there is a hard commercial angle to it.

Take the movie Milk for example. It showed a 25% jump in earnings the week after the Oscar awards were announced.

Slumdog Millionaire showed a jump of 15% the week after Oscars.

This brings the Studios into the equation. They are the most aggressive in pushing for the awards.

So what we see is a synergy between

  • ‘creative pursuits’ ie people wanting to make a good entertaining film,
  • revenues, getting a product out there that recoups investments with a decent profit and
  • awards ie getting peer recognition

Actually the awards are an added means to achieve revenues.

We see the similar commercial mindedness for all the awards. Be it music, film or television.

It is not the popular ones that win the awards of course, but we see time after time that the ones that win the awards benefit commercially too.

You can guess where I am headed with this.

Yes advertising awards.

Their role, to date, is quite clear.

Recognise the best creative talent from around the world.

Last year at Cannes we had the Gorilla film for Cadbury’s. The year before was Evolution for Dove.

Both won the top prizes. Both outstanding pieces of work.

The bit that is missing is the commercial angle. And I see clients continually worried about this too.

The unasked, and sometimes asked, question is ‘Is this piece of creative being presented with an eye on that event in June or on my bottom-line’.

And because clients are paying for the production of these ads their concerns are genuine. Quite like the feature film studios that make films, they are in it for the money.

Yes some clients like their 5 minutes of fame of being associated with an award winning piece of creative. But those tend to be aberrations.

The industry has generally ignored these concerns so far. But given the rise of Procurement Power it is in the industry’s interest to revisit this important aspect of agency-client life.

I think there could be two approaches.

The first approach is trying to mime the Oscars to an extent.

Connect creativity to commerce.

It is silly to connect awards to revenues. After all people don’t buy more of a product because an ad won a Grand Prix at Cannes.

It is probably a better idea to do it the other way. Link the awards to the revenues/results.

Make revenues, or whatever quantifiable objective, a measure of the success.

For example : The DMA has the Echo awards, but for long it has been relegated to being a poor cousin of the advertising awards. The Echos are meant to recognise communications that works. So score is given to business performance too.

It needs to be freshened up and made more sexy and made desirable amongst clients. If the clients desire it they will force their agencies to look at it as well, and could well link compensation to the Echos.

Something like this ensures that all parties working on a campaign have their interests aligned at not only making a glorious piece of communication, but also beating bottom line targets.

My guess is that meeting that target is going to get a lot more enthusiastic clients lobbying for those awards than current, where the awards sow seeds of distrust in the relationship.

The same could be done with the Effies too.

The second approach is more philosophical.

It recognises the fundamental role that clients play in the producing of creative. At the very least they pay for the production as much as they pay for the agency staff. At a more evolved level, we probably have clients who gave great briefs, or more time or any number of other ways they enabled the production of the creative.

What if the awards recognised this partnership and awards were awarded to the joint teams of client and agency?

It doesn’t take away from the agency’s contribution. But it recognises that of the client. Explicitly.

Quite like a best film award gets everyone from the Director of the film to the Producers and Studio Executives excited.

Can you imagine if the Unilever client was on stage with the Ogilvy team to recieve the Grand Prix for Dove?

How many clients would not go back to their agency and say that they wanted to be on stage the next year.

I believe this simple shift would get the clients engaged in what is seen as an agency jambourie.

And it does another subtle thing. It gets clients to attend more of these ‘creative’ award shows and open their minds to some great work, pushing the limits in their minds of what they will allow the agency to do.

It can be a win -win all around.

I am sure there are other ways that the awards, which I believe are important to recognise talent, can be brought to play a more integral part in the relationship and reinforce the agency role as a partner.

Whatever they are, I believe there is an urgent need to revisit this contentious issue as we come to crazy season when all agencies suddenly show up at the doors of NGOs, Churches etc with campaigns they want to run in December to get that metal in June.

What do you think?

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