Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2012

Losing millions on advertising

Interview with John Oldfield, Regional Creative Leadership Officer, Pirana.

MARYLOU ANDREW: What is the purpose of your visit to Pakistan?

JOHN OLDFIELD: This is my first visit to Pakistan; I am here to visit our clients and do a presentation for the Advertising Association of Pakistan (AAP). Imran Irshad (CEO, Pirana) and

I have known each other for 10 years; we first met at Saatchi & Saatchi in the Middle East and then went our separate ways.

He contacted me about 18 months ago to form a partnership to work together in the Pirana enterprise, and as a consequence of those discussions, here I am.

MLA: What is the presentation to the AAP about?

JO: The presentation is closely connected to my book, Advertising: Your Greatest Asset Or Worst Liability. Over the years I have worked with Saatchi and BBDO and others in many different countries and with all sorts of clients. During the process you ask yourself, what is the job of a creative director? There are many different aspects to it but ultimately what you do is accept and reject ideas (from your creative team). You have to have good reasons for your decisions; you cannot be arbitrary about it. So what the book and the presentation are about is the criteria by which you accept or reject a piece of advertising.

MLA: What are these criteria?

JO: That is really a critical question; the problem is that what I am going to say will sound basic and obvious. There are two parts to any communication and especially advertising: one is the content (what you say) and the other is the style (how you say it). Now the problem is that in a lot of advertising, one of those two factors is surprisingly not right.


#### Advertising can become an insular, arcane and esoteric industry. People in advertising really do think they are in a very special industry, far removed from a world that all those less fortunate people with lower intelligence inhabit.

In some cases, neither of them is, and that is a shameful waste of money. There are literally millions and millions of dollars wasted on advertising every year. In the book I offer the thought that advertising is probably the single biggest waste of money in business. It is important not to lose the discipline of analysing those two crucial factors before running an ad. There is a tendency among advertising people to say that’s so cool, that’s so funny, let’s run it. When you analyse the content of a lot of ads, they are clichéd, self-evident, people know them already and they are not engaging, awakening or creating curiosity. If I told you my name was John everytime we met, you would think I am loopy, but that is exactly what a lot of advertising does, it tells you things you already know. The content is really the most neglected part of the advertising.

MLA: Is one of the reasons for the lack of engaging content the fact that advertising people live in their own bubble?

JO: Advertising can become an insular, arcane and esoteric industry. People in advertising really do think they are in a very special industry, far removed from a world that all those less fortunate people with lower intelligence inhabit. That hubris and arrogance is the reason that they stop talking to other people and start talking to themselves. Most so-called creatives I know write ads to get the approval of their peer group and colleagues, rather than the person who is supposed to be reading the ad. That is using someone else’s money (the client’s) to bolster your own ego, which is actually a form of theft.

MLA: Do you think there has been a decline in advertising standards?

JO: There has been a decline in all standards, not only advertising. But I have to sit on the fence because there has been some great advertising about, although generally there is probably less of it. One of the chapters in my book is called ‘The lunatics are running the asylum’, and that is happening. Advertising people have lost the plot.

MLA: What has caused this lowering of standards?

JO: Advertising has become assailed with over-analysis. Marketers tend to try and look for science where it doesn’t exist and when sheer common sense and feeling and intuition should rule the day. That is part of the problem. The other part is that advertising people and the industry have forgotten that the purpose of advertising is not to make yourself feel good, it is to make the person who is reading it feel good. Someone once said: if you want to be a secure copywriter, write to please your client; if you want to be an award-winning copywriter, write to please yourself; if you want to be a great copywriter, write to please your reader.

MLA: A lot of agencies blame clients for bad work. What’s your take on that? And if clients are in fact responsible in some cases, then how do you overcome that?

JO: First of all, they are not always responsible. I have worked with hundreds of account people and there are only about four that I admire. They all played the lead role with the client and they had the client under control, not the other way around. The client would wait to see what they had to say before making a decision because they were more in tune with the business and made strategic recommendations that drove it. It is only because of weak management on the agency side that clients take on this alpha male role. So if the client is running the show then you have to ask yourself why this is happening. Sometimes a relationship is untenable and then you have to say goodbye.

MLA: Who did you have in mind when you wrote the book?

JO: It was written (and I’m not joking) out of moral necessity; it is meant to be a nonsense deterrent, the enemy of nonsense if you will. The real problem is that nobody (including me) can go to anyone and give them a guarantee that here is a piece of advertising which will double your sales in this period of time. Most people (and I kid you not) don’t think that’s possible anyway. People – even those working in advertising – are shocked about stories of what advertising has achieved. The point of the book is that advertising has to be very disciplined. Everything in an ad should be there for a reason, and the reason is to amplify, make clear and make persuasive the promise you are conveying. Anything else is dangerous.

John Oldfield’s book, ‘Advertising: Your Greatest Asset Or Worst Liability’ will be available at Amazon in February 2012.