Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Why Net Shops & Ad Agencies Should Never Marry

One of the biggest issue being discussed these days -- at least in the online marketing and advertising bars -- is the shocking, right-out-in-the-open topic of intermarriage of ad agencies and internet shops. No other issue gives me the creeps as much as this one does.

The very idea of traditional ad agencies coupling up and, ugh, integrating with internet shops is downright disgusting. It's like dogs living with cats. It's immoral. Unnatural.

More importantly, it doesn't work. And here's why:

When you try to breed two species, the result is often ugly; usually blasphemous. Imagine cross-breeding a pig with, um....Michelle Pfeiffer! Sure, you could end up with a beautiful strip of bacon, but you have a better than even shot and ending up with a snorting actress who likes to roll around in the mud.

Hmmm. That didn't come out exactly as intended.

Anyway, the real reason why today's ad agencies can't integrate with net shops has very little to do with real marketing issues or strategic theory. It's really about two completely different strains of agenda which are totally incompatible:

With internet shops, the agenda is results. With ad agencies, it's politics. And before anyone from the mucky-muck agencies starting hacking out hate mail, read on and see if you don't find yourself secretly nodding in agreement to the similarities to your own careers:

Now, as I was saying, ad agencies are politically driven. Net shops are, typically, results driven. Trust me, I work both sides of the street and for the most part, this is true. Ad agencies are interested in keeping their jobs, while net shops are interested in proving the viability of their medium.

If you doubt this, try holding a coherent conversation with the president of any traditional agency about almost any marketing topic, let alone the net. You will find that, especially in the big agencies, the bigwigs rise through attrition. Most of the talented types either have no patience for the political stuff or have left to do their own thing.

Next, try talking to any of those agency guys about the web -- while keeping a straight face. Sure, these people know that they should be there, but they have no idea why. Or how. And to admit something like that, in Agency Land, is a cardinal sin. A sign of weakness.


Oh, sure, you'll get one or two who know what they're doing. That's expected when you make as broad a sweeping generalization as I just did. But for the most part, that's why you see what you see from the agencies today: lots of "me too" activity. Action without true motivation.

Ad agencies are never be first to lead, but almost always the second to follow. Which is interesting, because web-based shops take pride in being out in front -- the way advertising agencies used to. It's a generational thing. Sort of like Luke Skywalker discovering that Darth Vader was actually his Dad.

The fact that agencies need to "be on the web" is what's driving them. I've been in meetings where they seriously say to a client, "we oughta have our own home page", never knowing how dopey it sounds, all the while hoping nobody calls them on it.

That's not to say all net shops are strategically driven wizards. Lord knows that the lion's share of net shops were founded by frustrated graphic artists. But their agenda are far more realistic than the ad agencies', mainly out of necessity. Because while ad agencies don't have to justify traditional media for their clients, net shops still have to rationalize the effectiveness of theirs.

So while ad agencies live off the fat of the land, net shops must either kill or go hungry. By definition, net guys are more motivated to produce results than agency guys.

For those of you more inclined to sadistic forms of entertainment, I heartily suggest you get these two in the same room -- in front of the same client. Sit back and watch the net guys' results-driven energy do battle with the agency guys' political paranoia.

But if you're a net fan, bring plenty of hankies, because you're going to watch your team go down in flames every time:

Smart, bright and strategic scares clients who crave comfort and stability.

Better you should stick with your own kind. Do what you do for people who appreciate it -- and pay you for it.

Net stuff should stay in net shops -- where it belongs.

Rob Frankel

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