Over promise, under deliver. How lazy clients kill campaigns.


by Magnus Shaw.


A couple of years ago an ailing roadside restaurant chain called in a radical TV chef to boost their menu and therefore their revenues. They refurbished some tired looking outlets, hired new people and ran a fairly hefty marketing campaign designed to revive their fortunes. I had a minor role in the project's advertising piece.

Scroll forward to the present day and the same celebrity cook appears on the radio to explain that, once the PR and marketing thrust died away, the company steadily abandoned his advice and work, reverted to its original 'sausage and beans' offering and slid back into financial difficulty.

The restaurants are still limping on and, last Sunday, I called into one for breakfast. It was a thoroughly miserable experience. As a pretty large event had been held in the adjoining hotel the previous night (the reason I was there), the diner was rather busy. If this wasn't obvious, the supervisor was more than happy to inform us they wouldn't be able to serve us for quite a while; this was before we had even taken our seats.

She was right. We'd been staring out of the window for a good twenty minutes before my wife noticed that patrons who had arrived after us, had already been served. We were forced to find a waitress to take our order. When the food eventually arrived it was appalling. Cheese topped crumpets were cold with the cheese plonked, un-melted over the top. A chocolate pastry had been micro-waved until its texture resembled Blu-Tak and was more or less inedible. This unmitigated mess wasn't cheap either - about £6.00 a head.

And yet I have heard senior managers from this firm blaming everything from the banking crisis to fuel prices for their ongoing woes. There may be some truth in that, but surely that is all the more reason to keep service levels high and the food tempting and delicious? They seem oblivious to the possibility that by lazily abandoning almost every aspect of their relaunch they may have become their own worst enemy.

This then, is a classic case of 'lazy client syndrome'. All too often a client will retain an advertising or marketing agency expecting them to transform their business through a campaign, but without the slightest intention of changing or at least delivering on the advertising's proposition.

Having spent hours in meetings trying to establish a selling point, it is astonishing how many clients cannot name a single reason why a customer would select their offering over their competitor's. What they seem to be seeking from an advertising campaign is a means of deceiving consumers into buying the inferior product or service they sell. And, clearly, some advertisements are created for that very purpose. But this is a counsel of despair - and one of the principal reasons the public distrust and dislike advertising to so much.

In the partnership between the agency and the client - and it is a partnership - the onus to build a compelling and persuasive marketing message lies with the agency. But the client is responsible for delivering on the promises - or better still, exceeding them. This is a vital piece of the marketing jigsaw and when it is missing, the incompleteness couldn't be more pronounced.

I was once involved in an extensive customer satisfaction survey for a national, frozen food retailer. It took a few months, ran to several hundred pages and cost a pretty penny. Unfortunately, the results revealed shockingly poor opinions and a profound problem with the brand's relationship with the shopper. One would hope this revelation would spur the company into action, prompting a radical rethink. But no. Firstly, the client exploded in a fit of indignation, castigating us for producing such a critical report at their expense. Then, having calmed down, they asked us to consider ways in which we could amend their advertising to paper over these gargantuan cracks. They certainly weren't prepared to introduce changes which might begin to eliminate their considerable failings. That would have taken imagination, commitment and effort - and sadly the client was too lazy for that.

I must stress this does not apply to every client, by any means. I have had the pleasure to work with individuals and firms ready to match their agency's creativity with innovation and a determination to provide something genuinely exceptional. Unsurprisingly their campaigns were considerably more successful than those of the clients who expected advertising to merely disguise their shortcomings.

Any advertising campaign, no matter how sharp or expertly delivered, will ultimately disappoint if its proposition is hollow. Equally, a business riddled with poor customer service and shoddy practices will steadily fail. Effective advertising must always reflect reality if it is to achieve anything substantial. To ignore this simple truth is to be lazy indeed.

Magnus Shaw is a writer, blogger and consultant.


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