Ask any animal psychologist. They’ll tell you that, if you want a
ferocious dog, shower it randomly with praise and punishment. Which may
explain the snappy reaction Campaign received from direct marketing
agencies over the top 30 direct marketing agencies table (10 October
Backbite wrote of these agencies the following week: ’By all means yell
when you think you’ve been dealt a disservice by Campaign, but remember
to send us the evidence to prove that what you’re doing is about to take
over the world.’
Campaign asked me for my response, and I’m happy to give it. Make up
your minds. Because one minute, it seems, we’re lowly purveyors of
direct mail, next we’re the new masters of the universe.
Now, I can’t speak for a whole industry, but it strikes me that this
’take over the world’ stuff does not emanate from direct marketers.
Rather, it comes from the world of advertising, which has developed a
peculiar fascination with predicting its own demise, and our ascendancy.
Every issue of Campaign now comes lined with articles on the death of
the 30-second spot, the perils of media fragmentation, or the blinkered
view of conventional agencies.
Against this backdrop, it’s harsh to blame our industry for raising its
voice. Or to berate us for failing to focus exclusively on our creative
zealotry, when Messrs Hinton and Sorrell have chided ad agencies for
doing precisely that. Likewise, it seems a little rough to attack us for
what you call our ’techno-logic’ when the ad industry is flagellating
itself over the threat from those (rarely plain-spoken) management
I don’t know how real these threats are to the ad industry but I’m only
cautiously optimistic about the opportunity for our own. True,
technology may help, but this isn’t a new debate. More than 20 years
ago, David Ogilvy described himself as ’a voice crying in the
wilderness’ in preaching the value of other media. Decades on, most
major advertisers trust about the same proportion of adspend to
30-second TV spots as they did then.
If we can’t change the future, we can at least change advertising’s
Call on us, or on WCJ, FCA!, Limbo or Craik Jones and you will find a
quiet confidence that, judiciously used, direct marketing can complement
or enhance the brand-building power of advertising. You’ll find the same
pride in our work for, say, the Vegetarian Society, Lotus, Royal Mail,
Cellnet, D&AD or Barnardos as at any good ad agency. Dare I say it,
you’ll now find a comparable standard of work.
True, you may find some direct marketing evangelism. But remember, I am
a direct marketing evangelist in the same way that I am also a radio
advertising evangelist: simply because these less fashionable forms need
vocal supporters. When you are in the wilderness, crying is the only way
to get heard.
Rory Sutherland is creative director at OgilvyOne.
This article was first published on Campaign