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Let’s Face It: Your Advertising Sucks

So I’m reading a headline predicting a 4% decline in radio advertising over the next year and another 4% decline the year after. Meanwhile we are constantly reminded about clients pushing for lower rates or for tech-enabled solutions which risk commoditizing radio altogether. The solution? Well, remove ownership caps, of course. That way we can buy more stations, cut more people, and provide a greater fraction of less value for fewer clients with, at least, less competition.

Meanwhile, would you believe that some segments of the advertising universe are thriving?

Not because they think of themselves as spot-sellers. Indeed, they may not sell spots at all. What they do is solve problems for clients.

Consider hot agency Droga5. Total revenue was up from $126 million in 2015 to $170 million last year. What’s their secret? Ask company founder David Droga. He’s a fairly harsh critic of his industry’s status quo.

Within a few minutes of meeting him he’ll tell you that he doesn’t watch commercials on TV and that most of advertising is just “chest-puffery” or “fireworks that disappear the second they’re out there”

Sound familiar? And he acknowledges that advertising is not the value consumers want – it’s what stands in the way of that value.

Droga generally finds advertising invasive and annoying. As he notes, “We work in an industry where people invent technology to avoid what we create.” Which is why he’s relentlessly focused on crafting campaigns that consumers receive willingly, because of their humor or pathos or just by virtue of being really interesting.

So how does Droga5 solve problems for clients?

“It’s crude, but the essence, whether we’re talking to a billion-dollar client or a startup, is: Why would anyone give a s**t about what we’re making?” he says. “Not, Do we think it’s cool or clever or funny or worthy? It’s, Why is this relevant?”

And this part is particularly key:

[Droga5’s] strategy team—which has grown in importance over the years to become a pillar of the agency—offers clients help with product development, social media planning, website design, PR tactics, and branding…using the kind of thinking the company originally developed to help inform the messaging, but applying it to deeper levels of problem solving. Droga5 is doing this type of work—developing new products, refining customer service, streamlining the shopping experience—for a whole range of clients, from Sprint to Pizza Hut to Chase. It’s about integrating the brand and the experience together.

As an illustration, Droga5 is behind Mattress Firm’s recent splashy introduction of a new tech-infused product:

…the Beautyrest Black Hybrid mattress, which claims to use “multitouch” memory foam in a new way. A few weeks later, it will be revealed with an Apple-style keynote, hosted by Steve Wozniak, that Droga5 concocted. The agency also came up with a tagline for an entirely new category of Mattress Firm products: “Technology to Power Off.”

In other words, Droga5 doesn’t stop at creating spots, let alone distributing them. Droga5 sees the challenges of their clients holistically and attempts to solve them exactly that way. It’s not only about the spot. It’s about the end-to-end experience and the products that are part of that experience.

It seems to me that this is the right way to think as budgets get squeezed and clients are forced to make choices. No matter what the menu your clients are faced with, what they really want at the end of the day is to grow their business. And helping clients grow their business will not be achieved simply by cheaper spots, more spots, more consolidation, more commoditization, and doubling-down on ads because – at least for now – that’s where the money is.

Indeed, when you have a megaphone as loud and as strong as the average radio station’s and you have robust market and audience relationships, you have everything you need to give your clients what they really need: Results.

Because if there’s one thing worth a lot more than a radio campaign, it’s results.

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