Mark Wnek on advertising

Only the envious say there are too many advertising agencies

My top three current pet hates are 1) people with tattoos who are not a) in the armed forces, b) actors, singers or musicians, c) criminals, convicted or otherwise, d) wearing a bikini; 2) "the postmodern toupee", hairstyle of balding men achieved by shaving off all their remaining hair in the lame attempt to mask nature's joke; 3) truisms.

My top three current pet hates are 1) people with tattoos who are not a) in the armed forces, b) actors, singers or musicians, c) criminals, convicted or otherwise, d) wearing a bikini; 2) "the postmodern toupee", hairstyle of balding men achieved by shaving off all their remaining hair in the lame attempt to mask nature's joke; 3) truisms.

Truisms are nasty, reactionary little barbed-wire fences designed to stop people thinking and challenging. Truisms are created by your elders to stop you from becoming their betters.

The top truism of the moment is that the advertising market is "massively oversupplied" by ad agencies. It's a phrase trotted out chiefly by the proprietors of less successful agencies and regurgitated by some of the more impressionable trade journos. Like many truisms, its flimsiness reveals itself under the slightest scrutiny.

Markets deal with oversupply quite violently, but I don't see any of the agency chiefs in question withering and dying as they lay siege to The Ivy's wine cellar. Yet you'd have thought that these underachieving duffers' companies would be the first to go to the wall.

No, the fact is that advertising folk make extremely good money compared to the average person. Okay, "massively oversupplied" may not be as powerful a criticism as it used to be - and about time too. But there's something deeply cringe-making about those within the industry moaning that there are too many agencies. Not least because the subtext is that the whinger's own company is not guilty.

Complaining that the ad agency market is oversupplied is like complaining that Glastonbury is too noisy and crowded: it's nature's way of telling you you're better off at home, tuning your radio to the Light Programme and tamping down your pipe rather than even thinking of pogoing up the front with Johnny Hornby.

Actually, the advertising market is, as ever, massively undersupplied ... by good agencies. Case in point: the recent IPA (Institute for Practitioners of Advertising) Effectiveness Awards where the Grand Prix was won by the agency Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest (VCCP) for its outstanding O2 campaign. VCCP is a new agency, started up by, among others, Charlie Vallance, the former managing director of WCRS and Rooney Carruthers, former creative director of the same agency and the visual genius behind the gone but not forgotten "The future's bright, the future's Orange" campaign.

As you may recall, O2 used to be BT Cellnet, a weak brand taking a kicking from Vodafone and Orange. Today it's a thriving business and a powerful brand thanks in great part to a visually arresting and single-minded branding campaign.

The IPA Effectiveness judges wrote: "O2's marketing investment has paid for itself 60 times over, generating an incremental margin of at least £4,799,000,000."

Luckily for all concerned, VCCP has no truck with truisms. Its success proves that there is always room for brilliant operators. Looking at the rest of the IPA awards, only the unignorable 118 118 campaign and the Department of Health's anti-smoking campaign really stand out. Last week I mentioned the recent Campaign Poster Awards in which only one poster and one campaign would, in my opinion, be noticed in the real world from a car at 30mph. The above are four or five examples from among thousands of communications.

Surely there must be dozens of brilliant writers, art directors, planners and suits working for The Man with the belief that they could set up their own ad agency based on passion instead of profit and kick some ass. A walk down any high street looking at inscrutable posters or a flip through TV channels tells any would-be ad agency entrepreneur that the ad agency world is not oversupplied; it is your oyster.

Did I mention that I hated truisms?

Witness the birth of a new satirical genius

One of my favourite advertising stories/myths is the reaction of the late great Jay Chiat, founder of LA-based ad agency Chiat Day, to an unwelcome letter from Donald Trump.

Chiat's response to Trump is alleged to have opened with the immortal words, "Dear Donald, I feel I have to warn you that some asshole has got hold of your headed notepaper..."

The spooky thing is that the Phantom Asshole seems to have made his or her way across the Atlantic and looted the stationery cupboards of several senior managers in the UK ad and media industries. Next, he or she has penned a whole series of letters under the managers' various names and sent them to the industry's trade mag, Campaign. Each letter praises Campaign's recent redesign in such spectacularly oleaginous terms that they can only be the work of a major new satirical genius.

"The new-look Campaign is achingly modern and yet timelessly traditional", "It is aesthetically addictive", "It feels like a modern sleek cross between the excitement of Campaign and the authority of Ad Age", and my personal favourite, "It feels as if the voice of the industry is perfectly lip-synching with the advertising business of today".

This is brilliantly funny stuff. Phantom Asshole, you are a major talent and you should be making a fortune from sitcoms, not skulking about the world in a pretend beard.

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