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).