Why Advertising Needs To Look To The “Good Ol’ Days” To Avoid Becoming Extinct

Why Advertising Needs To Look To The “Good Ol’ Days” To Avoid Becoming Extinct

Last week B&T published an opinion piece by J. Walter Thompson Sydney’s Carly Yanco, titled Why Aussie Adland Needs To Call “Time” On The “Good Ol’ Days. Unsurprisingly, the piece ruffled a few feathers with some industry veterans and here, B&T regular Robert Strohfeldt pens his riposte to young Yanco’s claims…

This is the third time I have tried to write a response to the rubbish, written by a kid who looks just out of puberty, yet has the title of head of strategy. But that is advertising today. Tons of opinions and bugger-all experience.

How many three-star generals are under 50? If you or a loved one needs a delicate life-saving operation, do you go with the 35-year-old or the 55-year-old surgeon? If a commercial airliner is in trouble, do you want the 35-year-old or 55- year-old pilot? As Chesley Sullenberger, the captain who successfully put his plane down on the Hudson River after loss of both engines due to bird strikes, said: “That nine minutes took all of my 46 years’ experience.”

But in advertising, we have kids with bugger-all experience holding down senior positions.

With 35 years in agencies and three years in market research, I am writing from experience, not “I heard”. I lived through the years she hypotheses about. Total and utter bullshit. I kept saying to myself and wondering as I read it “where/how did she come up with this crap?” This kid obviously believes Mad Men is a documentary.

But when I read her accusations of gathering around the water cooler to tell “politically incorrect jokes”, it was obvious she is one of the ideologues, more concerned with identity politics than effective commercial messaging. It was clear that there was an agenda behind her garbage, as she tried to re-write history.

I joined an agency in 1983 after three years working for the legendary George Kelly, an eccentric mad genius whom Carly would have despised. He was old school, but he is far and away the best researcher, strategist or whatever new-age title you want to use, I ever encountered.

I have continued in research, racking up well over 1000 focus groups, hundreds of quantitative studies and one-on-one in-depth interviews, data analysis (my degree was a BSc majoring pure and statistical mathematics).  In 1989, I teamed up with Grahame Bond and become more and more involved in creative development. Today, I am both researcher/strategist and creative director. But this is not about me, though I think it appropriate to state I am more than qualified to pass comment on the greatest load of garbage I have read in the past 10 years.

In my blog www.realityonline.com.au, many of the misguide issues Carly touches on are covered in depth.

In my first two responses, “I played the man instead of the ball”. A sporting analogy. I don’t have a particularly high opinion of strategy/planners and went into detail of why I think most are useless. They tend to be buzzword buffoons and are a relatively recent addition which have dumbed down account service, slowed the creative process and added to agency costs.

Not to mention boring the pants off clients with PowerPoint presentations that can best be summed up by “Give me your watch and I will tell you the time”.  (When I first joined an agency, account service people were interchangeable with marketing and product managers. They were marketers and advertising people, not empty suits.)

For amusement, I keep a file on some of the best examples of “enlightenment” published by planners such as:

“Instead, I believe we will continue to see the rise of a new breed of more entrepreneurial, multi-disciplinary groups that were forged in the digital age and that can prove to clients that they can truly bring together the right mix of specialist capabilities, around a compelling strategy and creative framework, in a flexible and agile way and to drive business results”. WTF?

Nothing of educational value, but a shitload of laughs. And a great example of what many planners bring to the idea table. Nothing

But enough of poking fun at today’s so-called strategists. Let’s take a look at Carly’s accusations.

The drinks carts at 3pm? Really? Having worked at Masius (DMB&B), McCann, Clemenger and Saatchi (prior to M&C), and a founding partner of Bond Strohfeldt, there was no drinks cart. And if you wanted to cut your career short, start drinking at 3pm.

I am guessing you pissed off a couple of old creatives who decided to have some fun and take the piss out of you. From the self-righteous tone of your article, I can see that happening.

The long lunches, unrealistically long creative deadlines? On average, we were in over 280 publications every weekend at Bond Strohfeldt. There was no quick cut. The ads had had to be created and bromides be ready and dispatched around the country. Yep, we had the odd long lunch, but when people have not had a day off in a couple of weeks and worked 12 and 14-hour days, they needed to let off steam.

The same work ethic prevailed at the other agencies I worked in – not just those, but with friends in every major agency in town. It was the same across the board. With a couple hundred hopefuls contacting every major agency each week, you would be out the door in a flash if a person carried on with the crap in your accusations.

The concept of ‘work hard, play hard’ has obviously not reached you?

The hours were long in every agency I worked in. Eight-hour day? A fucking luxury, Yes, we had a drink to unwind from a brutal day. Letting off steam was healthy and fun.

Both of my daughters are graduates of Sydney University and career-obsessed. I have supported and encouraged them in every way I can. (Men and women are equal in ability. Only a bigoted idiot would think differently. I have always believed that ability should be the only criteria in job selection and promotion).

The big difference between today and the 80s and 90s is today there is far more emphasis on work/life balance. They are stunned when I tell them about working 15, 16 even 21 days straight without a day off and pulling all-nighters before a major pitch or project. (I am having a drink with the former advertising manager of Daihatsu, a founding client, and showed him your article. He has volunteered for you to contact him to vouch for the all-nighters we had to pull to make deadlines suddenly pushed upon us. Contact B&T and they will give you Denis’s details for you to talk to him.)

I think today the balance is far better, but it seems you think you work hard. What a joke. You would not have lasted a month in the 80s and 90s. Your incessant whining and lack of humour would have pissed everyone off – males and females. The latter often telling the bawdiest jokes.

Humour, often black humour, was a great way to relieve stress. My founding partner, Grahame Bond (aka Aunty Jack) has said this iconic series would never be made today because of fun police such as you. Neither would Faulty Towers, Black Adder, Monty Python – humour pushes the envelope.

But thanks to the fun police, humour has all but disappeared. Try running either of these TVCs today:


The biggest change I have witnessed over the past 30-plus years, to the detriment and potentially extinction of advertising agencies, is the loss on the emphasis of creativity.

Borrowing from Bill Clinton, “It’s the message, stupid.” In the past 40 years, the biggest own goal was the separation of media and creative. As I have said many times: advertising = media + message.

The message has lost its primacy, and with the attitude of Carly, I can see why. As a strategist, your role is to provide the brief to develop the most effective advertising in line with the objective.

Advertising agencies are engaged by clients to produce ideas – advertising creative.

Instead of rubbishing the past and making outlandish claims that are total bullshit, why don’t you go back over some of the great campaigns of the past and see if you can learn something from them?

If ad agencies are to remain relevant, we must get back to and focus on what made the industry great – ideas.

You have denigrated the era when the best creative was produced in this country. And you think we should throw it on the garbage heap? Your article showed me you have zero empathy for creative, and great creative starts with empathy – not with charts and PowerPoint presentations.

There is an old saying, “Creative wins business, account service loses it”. In other words, clients buy great ideas, but are let down by poor service. Not sure where you fit into the picture, Carly, apart from being a cost centre and a poor history student.

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    1. Maaaattteee, your piece is everything I hate about our industry. No doubt you have made some great points but you lose me when you constantly attack Carly as a person. How on earth have you read Carly’s opinion piece and felt personally victimised? Poor form Robert

    2. Thought I’d jump on here between juggling my daughter and various strategy “buffoon” meetings to point out that my article was tongue-in-cheek and not a personal attack on you, unlike your response. I’ll have a rosé in honour of your glittering self-written memoir at my next long lunch.

    3. I forgot to include a great TVC for Daewoo that would more than likely be condemned today for making fun of people with a disability:
      Also John Singleton, one of the industry’s most famous larrakins of the era had a policy of instant dismissal for anyone who drank at lunch.

carly yanco Robert Strohfeldt

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