Open Letter to agencies

Posted by Uwe Hook on August 5th, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Dear ___________:

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.

In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.

But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.

All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will man a good man better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.

The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising.  The danger lies In the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.

If we are to advance we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.


I didn't write this letter. It was written 63 years ago by Bill Bernbach. Right before Doyle Dane Bernbach started advertising's  creative revolution.

Validation of your work or call for change? Only you can answer that.

2 Responses to “Open Letter to agencies”

  1. AMEN!

    I think we all get caught up in the routine which leaves us just going through the motions, if we allow it. As technology has advanced, allowing us to do more, see more and accomplish more within a day, we tend to allow the tools to take the lead and guide us, but can easily lose sight of how we got there.

    Matching talent and a knack for persuasion with the ability to understand and implement ideas based on these tools is a special combination, but we all need to unplug and partake a in some good old fashioned brainstorming every once and a while, break the cycle and step out of the routine - it's a must if you want to stay in the game.

  2. Reid Carr says:

    In this modern era we must also include this call to clients. Clients are more involved in the process than ever before and they help to unlock some of the inspiring ideas through research, partnership, collaboration, sharing, embracing and approving.

    The teams today, agency aside, are bigger than ever. During the era of this letter, agency teams didn't yet include account planners, usability experts, cross-functional agency partners both small and large -- meetings including PR, digital, traditional, branding, media, hispanic, in-market, POS, street teams -- and legions of researchers from every possible angle.

    Agencies, no doubt, need to create and maintain an atmosphere to inspire, but that can happen at any size agency as did with DDB here.

    Some of the most important work in the last few years has come from big agencies (in this, perhaps, we must define "big") and then we have also seen glimmers of unsustained greatness from "hot new shops," as well. The difference between sustainable and unsustainable inspiration comes not in the search of the idea, but in the partnership with great marketing client-side partners who are capable of balancing the data with the partners and the need to build long-term value in the face of a short-term, quarter-by-quarter financial world. In that, I request that clients be be bold and work to find that balance; it no easy task.

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