Not enough clients shop at Prada

I was chatting to a an ex-colleague the other day. We were reminiscing about the good old days when we both worked for AMV in the late 1990s.

Our memories might be a tad fuzzy but we both recalled it being an amazing place to work, both creatively and in new business terms. It used to suck in accounts like the Death Star’s tractor beam, one blue chip household name after another sliding irresistibly through the door.

We went on to wonder what an agency has to do to get into that position and why it doesn’t happen so much now.

I likened it to Prada vs M&S. When an agency is on a brilliant run clients will treat it like a visit to Prada, hoping against hope that they can bask in the reflective glow of utter excellence. Please let us be your client, they pray, wringing their hands like Uriah Heep. A late-nineties AMV ad campaign, much like a 2002 Mother, a 2005 Fallon, or a 2011 Adam and Eve would be like a Prada suit, conferring some kind of status upon the wearer no matter what the quality (although the quality would invariably top-notch; that’s how they get in that position in the first place).

But there are by definition very few Pradas (if we were all Prada none of us would be), leaving the rest of the field to be taken up by the odd Hugo Boss and a great many Marks and Spencer’s: decent enough, but pretty much indistinguishable from each other, and certainly unable to inspire the kind of obsequiousness of the top agency on top of its game. So that leaves the clients thinking (and behaving) like they are shopping in M&S: it ain’t a privilege, and the general feeling is that they’re doing you a favour by pointing their cash in your direction (which they are, at least a little bit).

In the old days, when great advertising was a bit of a mystery, and the ads were better, more agencies were held in Prada-level regard. Now that we’ve all accepted ads aren’t as good as they used to be, and relatively easier to make (changing a font now takes roughly 1,000,000th the time it took in 1974)  there’s much less respect for what we do. To a client it must seem as enjoyable an experience as buying that cheap suit, and just as likely to get their give-a-shit gland throbbing. If you produce amazing, that’s how you get treated, but average work begets average love, and whether work is genuinely average or merely perceived to be that way, it doesn’t really matter.

There is, of course, a solution: lots and lots of truly incredible work (just as long as we don’t all do it at the same time).

Comments 29

  1. Quimsy wrote:

    Clients these days wouldn’t know good work if it shat on their arms.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 9:14 pm
  2. ben wrote:

    That’s a good point. Many clients might be in Richard James but believe they are in Ted Baker.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 10:04 pm
  3. Anonymouse wrote:

    We are observing the blossoming of first graduates of the fabulous ‘marketing’ degree.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 11:07 pm
  4. vinny warren wrote:

    Advertising usually adapts to whatever the conditions are. It’s a mirror, ultimately.

    UK advertising used to be the best at the advertising crafts. And then the valued crafts changed slightly. it’s been a bit lost ever since IMO.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 3:58 am
  5. Quimsy wrote:

    I think a lot of clients go into Prada, are shown some lovely, stylish, creative stuff by experienced staff who’ve been making and selling lovely stuff for years, then they tell the staff that they’re wrong.
    Then they get their scissors out and remove the bits they don’t like from the good stuff and staple some other bits thet they’ve made themselves to what’s left and buy that instead. At twice the price.
    Then they demand that the Prada staff start making the kind of stuff they’ve just seen when they walked past Primark.
    To thrash this metaphor to death.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 8:33 am
  6. Kate wrote:

    “A 2011 Adam & Eve campaign”? I’m sorry to go off on a tangent, but they’ve never produced anything to compare to the highs of Mother, Fallon, or BBH for that matter. A shit year for everybody else does not make a vintage year for Adam & Eve.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 10:12 am
  7. Jim wrote:

    Great post Ben.

    @Quinsey – The people at Prada wouldn’t let you do that. Isn’t that the problem? They’d say – you can’t do that in here Sir, I suggest you pop along to Mister Byrite.

    We do live in rather uncreative times. Just look at the state of politics if you dare, art, TV, popular books, or music. I know there are some exceptions too. And of course there are still flashes of brilliance as well.

    If advertising takes it’s inspiration like a cultural sponge. Then there isn’t much to draw on. Isn’t that why some agencies get talent from other cultures to come here and work?

    Of course clients can have differing (shit) opinions and be annoying sometimes (a lot). I think there needs to be more of a Prada attitude. More explanation of what is quality and why they hired you in the first place.

    Finally the recession, is it double dip now? . Most businesses turn from being strategic to tactical. Doing themselves what they tell brands not to do. Slash prices, sell anyone anything, BOGOF, cut margins etc.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 11:07 am
  8. ben wrote:

    Clients treated 2011 Adam and Eve like Prada because they solved big brand problems with the most awarded ads in the world. You could drop them a notch to Donna Karan if you like, but clients wanted what they had.

    And to Quimsy’s point: I’ve seen a hell of a lot of work presented to clients over the years and, particularly in recent times, it ain’t Prada. Agencies like to think it’s Prada so they can have a good old whinge about the client, but it’s generally not the real thing.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 11:25 am
  9. Quimsy wrote:

    You say, “More explanation of what is quality and why they hired you in the first place.”

    And that may have worked in the old days. When clients were normal intelligent people,open to debate but now they are idiots. And you cannot talk sense to an idiot. As Mark Twain says

    “Do not argue with an idiot they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 11:30 am
  10. AdamT wrote:

    We usually give them two suits for free just for walking in to have a chat. Afterwards they bin them and ask for three more, eventually paying for one. After about 90 days.

    Mind you, when I worked at a Prada agency, we were so cock-sure of our genius, safe in the knowledge that our swathe of awards meant we really were THAT good, we pissed off most of our clients, who popped down to M&S instead, never to return.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 11:32 am
  11. john p woods wrote:

    Suits you, sir.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 1:20 pm
  12. Quimsy wrote:

    There is a dfference beteen Prada and Pradadvertising Ltd (the name of our fictitious “Prada of agencies” in our metaphor). If Prada show clients who don’t appreciate their genius the door then it’s no problem as there is a never ending supply of rich douchebags who want some Prada stuff. If Pradadvertising Ltd shows clients the door who don’t appreciate their genius they go bust. The supply of rich advertising douchebags is finite, they’re not going to waltz in the door and hand over the cash these days and they’re very difficult to prize away from the Marks and Spenceads Ltds who aren’t so annoyingly principled when it comes to their adverts.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 2:02 pm
  13. Jim wrote:

    I like that one Quimsy.

    “An intelligent man should never argue with an idiot, somebody might walk by and not know which one is which.”

    Grin and bear it? Surely not.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 2:09 pm
  14. ben wrote:

    But Quimsy, many agencies show clients the door on the grounds that they can’t get on (ie, they’ve shown them 43 routes but none have been liked). I grant you, it’s less common now, particularly as most agencies will tackle most problems, but there’s definitely a parting of the ways that can be instigated by the agency. I’d suggest that A&E were offered more work than they could reasonably handle and therefore decided to take care of their current client base rather then try to grow it, and that amounts to the same thing.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 2:42 pm
  15. Quimsy wrote:

    Hmmm. Yes I see.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 2:49 pm
  16. Peggy wrote:

    Is the decline in the calibre of work also linked to the decline in the calibre of Creative Directors…or should i say Executive Creative Directors (every Tom, Dick and Pablo is a Creative Director these days and the title is meaningless)?
    I look at the so called Creative Heads these days and just think ‘What the *%$* have you done?’
    What has Burley ever done at CHI, or Darken at Albion?
    Prada produces Prada, Primark produces Primark.

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 10:19 pm
  17. Paul wrote:

    Clients aren’t in Prada or even M&S nowadays. They’re rooting around charity shops looking for something for next to nothing

    Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 10:46 pm
  18. Butterbean wrote:

    Nice post.

    Seeing as the good times are seemingly long gone, if you were standing on the threshold of an agency for the first time in 2013 rather than 1997, what would you do?

    Turn heel and do something else or try and get in and do the best work possible? And if something else, what else?

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 9:54 am
  19. ben wrote:

    I think there’s a lot to be said for a few years in advertising.

    It can still float your monkey better than many 9-5s, and the reduction in good times is all relative anyway. It beats most call centres.

    But if I was really clever I think I’d try writing for HBO.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 10:55 am
  20. neil c wrote:

    …and then there are those clients who come out shopping in Bond Street with a Primark budget.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 1:12 pm
  21. ben wrote:

    Bond Street would surely tell them to ‘do one’.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 4:36 pm
  22. Mister Gash wrote:

    Does your metaphor stretch across to production Ben?

    Along the lines of – we like Prada and we are happy to shop there, but – um – we can only afford a pair of socks….

    And we’ve brought along a personal shopper who tells us that we shouldn’t be paying as much as that for a pair of socks….

    Or something.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 4:50 pm
  23. Fruit basket wrote:

    Clients are crap but let’s be honest, the staff aren’t as good anymore either.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 5:52 pm
  24. ben wrote:

    Mr G: it all breaks down when the production company sighs and say, ‘Oh, all right then, let’s see what we can do’.

    Prada salespeople never say that. They smile politely and point the customer in the direction of Top Shop.

    If this analogy continues with production they really have to realise the rod for their own back has been made by them. Unfortunately it’s not just one person, its the incremental problem of the whole industry.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 6:48 pm
  25. Sell! Sell! wrote:

    Good point that last one Ben.

    The ad industry also suffers from that though, because too many big agencies who delude themselves into thinking they’re still a Prada, will really happily knock out some Primark or Elizabeth Duke at the drop of a bonnet. And smaller places who flood the market with cheap tat like a bloke flogging knock-off Louis Vuitton’s out the back of a van.

    For us, the problem sometimes arrises when a client looks at our tiny shop and thinks we’re a branch of Timpsons, and when they get through the door they find themselves in Church’s. Very embarrassing.

    I’m enjoying the analogy BTW.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 7:47 pm
  26. ben wrote:

    It could run and run.

    What I’m starting to realise is that more companies should have stayed behaving like Prada (maybe it wasn’t their choice to stop). Cheap and quick has become the norm and no one cares about quality anymore.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 8:51 pm
  27. Jaded. wrote:

    I think AdamT hit the nail on the head in his second paragraph. We’re all so busy slagging clients, maybe the truth we’re not facing is that we fucked it up for ourselves. Clients see us as self serving. And is it any surprise when come award time agencies (the current incarnation of the agency i think AdamT was talking being especially guilty of this) go to their clients and say, will you sign off this campaign that we’re going to pay for, media, shoot, production and everything, so we can enter it into an awards show. Clients think, fuck me, they think this is their best stuff, and they’re giving it away for free – why should I pay Prada prices for the day to day stuff they’re selling me?

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 11:17 pm
  28. ben wrote:

    Lots of things fucked it up but our overindulgence was/is right at the top of the list.

    Shitting in hats is number seven.

    Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 11:41 pm
  29. Anonymous wrote:

    The last nail in the coffin of VW:

    Posted 01 Mar 2013 at 2:23 pm

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