Ad Agencies are High School Cafeterias

I'm a native West Hollywoodian, so if there's one thing I'm familiar with, it's vanity.  Self-awareness is healthy, but vanity can lead to sin very easily.

When I left the music industry to pursue a career in Advertising, I instantly developed an interest in studying and learning the operations models of my Fortune 500 clients.  I was lucky to start off at innovative powerhouse The Barbarian Group, a shop led by sharp digital strategy that considered client business objectives before engineering creative solutions.  This allowed me to dig in to global client organizations through stakeholder interviews and region-specific research before pitching the sexy solves.

It was also instantly clear to me that 'Interactive' Communications (Marketing & Advertising) was about solving business problems rather than hypnotizing consumers into purchase like the attempts of the AT&T and Jeep commercials on which I was raised.  This built on my 'client side' experience that preceded my agency days -- where I learned that each piece of content developed, and each process tweak had to work within the fabric of an existing business need in order to be recognized, implemented, and ultimately become effective.

As an Ad World newcomer, I got a quick dose of the cool kid syndrome but didn't realize how deeply rooted the problem was until much later.  

 If "Digital" had legs and arms...

If "Digital" had legs and arms...

Most agency creatives fancy themselves artists.  And that's fine.  Most of them are, in their spare time.  Heck, I'm an artist in my spare time, as well.  Over decades since Mad Men era, they've been the crowned creative leaders and awarded massive budgets to produce grand and stunning work.  However, all throughout that time, they were not being trained in the art of solving business problems.  And now, 15+ years after Digital entered the scene as a Godzilla, stomping out industries one at a time ("disruption" is too mild a term), they're still chasing Cannes Lions instead of working towards business solutions for their clients.

The problem is perpetuated by agency hierarchies.  The revered ECD title is one worth working 12-14 hr days for, for most Jr. Designers and Copywriters.  This pattern results in a popularity contest, or conquest. 

On the agency side, I stood at a crossroads.  I found myself part hypnotized -- wanting to be star of the SXSW panels and TED Talks -- and part turned off.  

 Stage Right: 13 and dangerous. (Photo Credit: My Instagram #TBT from 48wks ago)

Stage Right: 13 and dangerous. (Photo Credit: My Instagram #TBT from 48wks ago)

Flashback:  I was a high school legend -- at Brentwood, tied with Harvard-Westlake for West LA's most academically rigorous college prep school.  On the 650 person campus, I was the only out gay kid,  wore badass TOOL/NIN shirts, told great jokes, and always had a lot of good weed on me.  Seriously.  It was a 4 year peak experience.  All the while, though, I had a queasy feeling when it came to the pervasive popularity seeking.  

In the high school cafeteria, we looked for social groups that would support our stage characters.  In the high school cafeteria, we valued generous accolades, positive mentions, party invites, and academic awards.  Needless to say, this atmosphere did not foster a collaborative working environment.  It was a painstaking competition all the way to the Yale admission letter.

How can an organization, built atop an identical value system to that of the high school cafeteria's, produce deeply effective business results?  They can't get past surface results, and they haven't really needed to until now.  

Consumers aren't buying it.  Literally.  Consumers don't value Cannes Lions, your score on the "Digital Innovation" top 50 of the day, nor do clients who fear their entire business may be obsolete by Q1 2017.  The game has changed.  Completely. 

Fortune 500s can't pull the plug on $10MM-$50MM Media budgets overnight.  It's a long process to reallocate funds to the right services and teams.  And, it's worth noting that these expensive partnerships have rendered integral foundation work like Brand Strategies, Platforms, Consumer Archetypes, and Product Campaigns. 

KIMBA believes in weening businesses off skin-deep solves and investing more against longterm solutions.  Over a period of time (usually between 6 and 12 months), we help our clients to business health by reallocating budget to assets and systems they can own, reuse, and build upon.  We help them recruit the right in-house digital talent so they aren't overly dependent on the next "hot service" pitched by their legacy agency partners.  We teach them new ways to measure success -- less through "quick wins" and more through operational efficiencies, new products & services, and steady and sustainable ROI growth.  

So, c'mon, my people!  Let's get it together and reprioritize our shenanigans.  It's basically 1954, we're in Tokyo,  and there's no time to be fixin' our hair in front of the god damn mirror!



A Letter to Deutsch

Hello Deutsch,

We’d like to diagnose your failure to perform in this culture of perpetual change, while also throwing you some accolades for your noble effort, The Inventionist. 

Digital revolutionaries, like Bud Caddell, former head of your group Inventionist, have spent years bouncing between stale organizational structures.  On the client side, traditional operating models won't budge.  And on the Ad Agency side, the problem is exactly the same, except it’s dressed up in a cloak of Cannes Lions, Fast Co. articles, and a sexy pants suit.

Passionate digital talent like Mike and I, and like Bud, have become misfits.  On the surface, we're amongst the most coveted talent of recruitment departments across the board -- purebred digitally native thinkers/doers.  But in the workplace, whether client boardroom or agency war room, we found ourselves spouting genius strategies (brand, product, mobile, digital, social, app, Ux, you name it) into a black hole of “this ain’t ever gonna fuckin' get done.”

Outcome of the stalemate shuffle, you ask?  Mike and I had to leave Omnicom.  We were determined to find a better way to create compelling, innovate communications work for traditional structures that stood in the way of their own progress.  We formed KIMBA, a firm with a name so unique, it can’t be tied down to any one concept.  We knew we’d have to be that agile and dynamic - advancing at the rate of consumer behavior, technology, and the marketplaces they define.

The irony is that about 6 months before mustering the courage to jump Omnicom ship, we likely would have applied for one of the Inventionist’s funky job openings – Inventions Architect, Thought Leader, Results Magician, Solutions Incubator, Sex God.  We would have bought the hype – the site design, the infographics, the new human science philosophies, the boundless optimism of theories yet to be proven.  We would have guzzled the hope Kool-Aid -- the hope that a traditional creative leader like Deutsch could truly become DIGITAL.

But, alas, we didn’t bite.  Instead, we made the jump and have been trudging in the weeds with our client partners since last September. Baruch Hashem

 Draper: Pure 1960's sex ( AMC )

Draper: Pure 1960's sex (AMC)

What we want to share with you, Deutsch, is our own philosophy built from personal experience.  It is that the real 'invention' needed by businesses (and your clients) isn’t sexy.  It really isn’t.  It can’t be sold or defined by a tagline or typeface.  It can’t be summarized in a venn diagram.  It isn’t idyllic.  It's actually not even an 'invention.' 

We call it a Transformation.  Business Transformation.  It’s rough and gritty.  It involves humility, a real dedication, and a collaborative partnership commitment from both the consulting firm and the client.  It involves not being written up in Mashable.  

Here, we hit a wall.  Agency talent is creative and driven by a hunger to make good work.  Sexy work.  Award-winning sexy work.  But no!  No more, we say!  We have to put a stop to the making of shiny objects.  No more noise.  No more fanning the flames!  No more avoiding our clients' true needs. 

So, the diagnosis:

Addiction to making sexy things and addiction to being a part of the sexy thing.  Addicted to image -- to smoke and mirrors. 

We can blame our client partners all day long for being stubborn, uncreative, and demanding for all the wrong things.  However, they are not the true culprits, here.  It is us, the agency talent, that continue to peddle expensive buzzservices like 'social media campaigns' and 'branded video content' to marketing departments who are being held to sales numbers and scrutinized more closely than any other department in their organization.  If we spent nearly half our efforts engineering true business solutions, and using our creative abilities to help these organizations, we'd be much further along by now. 

Instead, you're stuck in a cycle where you can't justify your bulky overhead without selling in the same services and solutions that are no longer relevant in today's market and with the modern consumer -- the brand adverse modern consumer.

KIMBA's rallying cry starts with the honest admission that WE are to blame.  We must first admit the harm we've caused in perpetuating the myth of the passive consumer and our desire to create hype instead of help.  

Our clients are in need of our service and strategy more than ever before.  We underestimate their analytical abalities when we communicate to them through venn diagrams and sexy sinusoidal curves.  We have to stop blaming them for being risk-adverse, when we've been lazy and risk-dodging, ourselves.  Let's try entrusting newer leaders with longterm visions, re-evaluating our top heavy management structures, questioning our over-dependency on media agencies, focusing on the means, not the ends.  

We're writing because we love you, Deutsch.  Because we want you to live.  You were what inspired us to get in this business in the first place.  But it ain't lookin' good for you right now -- an inability to retain your best and brightest digital leaders being a prominent symptom.  

Let's be real.  Let's evolve.  The time has come and we have the brains and resource to guide affect true Digital Transformation.


Rebecca & Mike

How'd We Get HERE?

“Many firms proudly point to their mobile app and proclaim “Hey, we’re digital!” While they may be driving incremental revenue, all they have done is bolt on another touchpoint. Real digital businesses go much further, integrating the two sides of digital strategy: digital customer experience (DCX) and digital operational excellence (DOX).” - Forrester

Out of Operations, IT, HR, Manufacturing, R&D, Business Development, Product Development, Marketing and Sales, Marketing was the first Business discipline to get struck by the rapid changes in consumer behavior and technology.  A chain reaction was set in motion where:

1.    Businesses’ Marketing Departments needed new solutions (like, yesterday)

2.   Agency partners then needed to transform their core capabilities to meet the new and rapidly evolving demands of their clients

3.   Agencies priced themselves out of New Media categories and capabilities because their infrastructures had been built on supporting Broadcast and Print work (much more expensive).

4.   Businesses scrambled to find solutions in house, find new agencies that boasted a more “Integrated” service set.  Meanwhile, Procurement departments stepped in to monitor Third Party spending, which made contracting new agencies and consultants even more difficult.

5.   While hunting partners for help with Digital Creative, Marketing departments were hit on every side by eager technology startups with platforms to automate various aspects of Social Media community management.  Every other day was a training session or a free webinar (sales pitch in disguise)

6.   Businesses are left with a result of the scramble and in a state of overwhelm.  Now, in 2014, there is a choice to make.  Disruption is eminent across all industries.  

The choice is simple.  There are those who will continue to implement bolt-on solutions, ignoring the necessity to transform.  Those businesses will be disrupted and will fail by 2017.  Then there will be businesses who want to do THIS WORK and take real inventory of their organization.  Those will compete and in many instances innovate outside of traditional category constraints.  Yes, this all results in growing sales #’s and ROI.

People Don't Care about Branded Video Content

I read this article the other day which was written by 2 widely revered ad dudes.  The topic of the article was brands needing to invest larger portions of their media dollars in the creation of video content.  The authors' chief postulate was that PEOPLE like VIDEO and banner ads suck.  Wow!  Did you just feel the earth shift?  ;P

The dialogue in this article reminds me of a conversation I had in a client boardroom about 4 years ago.  My talented and tireless agency team had been creating deck after deck, packed with insight after insight, about how, yes, people watch video.  And, better yet, they watch it because they like  it.  A war fought in the noble effort to push that budget, inch by inch, towards the creation of more video.   

So, anyway, I'm reading this article and totally disagreeing.  

Our country's Advertising and Marketing practices have been founded on the hypnosis of sensationalism.  Early on, master creatives knew they needed to employ theatrics to dress up brands and their mundane product sets.  They needed to weave elaborate and heavy-handed tales in order to attract, magnetize, and often hypnotize the consumer.  The best brands produced products that lived up to promises they marketed and advertised.  The crap brands fell off the map.  Long live the democratic evening out process of free market. 

Take it back 15 years-- broadcast is king of the consumer eye and the :30 spot is j'everything.  The sensationalism and bold cinematography in a Mazda commercial is almost enough to suck out a tear drop or two.  Today, we see the same technique applied to the TV spot.  Ever get :15 deep in a commercial filled with profound quotes and epic nature shots yet you have NO IDEA what the commercial is advertising?  Is this an effective tactic?  


I don't think brands need to be creating more video as much as brands and their agencies need to accept that consumers aren't looking to brands for great video content and immersive viewing experiences.  Consumers look to brands for great products and solutions that offer them value and benefits in their daily lives.

Of course, Global Agencies don't want to sniff these roses.  To accept this state of affairs would mean they'd need to abandon the sexiness of being in Advertising.  All of the Art and Creative Directors who really just wanted to direct indie films will need to concede that this may not be the industry for them to actualize those fantasies.

As opposed to "hey brands, make more VIDEO content," I'd prefer a blanket directive like, "hey brands, spend your resources, your people, your dollars, on building products that add value to the lives of people who use them.  Invest in technology and start to understand integration and enhancement of the product set you've crafted.   Then, around those products, create ways to communicate their utility and benefits in a manner that is inviting to those you wish to attract."

This doesn't mean KIMBA isn't going to suggest we create video content as part of a brand's content strategy and creative mix.  It's an important piece of a larger picture.  It helps tell a visual story in concert with other content: ratings & reviews, apps, customer service forums, curated editorial, photos, articles, data visualization, etc.

BUT, the ingestion pace of today's consumer culture doesn't want to slow down for the hypnosis of more and more branded video content.  Sure, it can be fun.  And sure, any Fortune 100 brand can throw millions at top comedy writers and directors to produce an SNL caliber spot in which their brand is tastefully featured.  However, people would appreciate more direct communication.  Less fluff.  They want great products from their brands and for great video "content" they'll continue to turn to theaters, Netflix, cable (had to?) or bit torrent! 

 Old World Order

Old World Order

Strategy Skimpin'

OMG WTF! How exciting is the INTERNET!? 

My loves, sometimes I feel like companies should just be thanking the internet all damn day for giving them such rich opportunities to better know themselves, and to better understand their consumers. Like, they should just be tweeting @ and hashtagging the shizz out of mother INTERNET, all damn day.  


But wait a sec, my friends, the INTERNET can be pretty scarrrry, too.  There's just so much going on inside of it!  Sometimes I even feel this impending doom, like there's a 7,000 man-strong prodigy hacker army determined to undermine or overthrow all societal stability.  Sometimes I want to download the secret prodigy hacker army password from a bit torrent site.  Other times I fantasize about moving to Walden Pond where I can live thing-less like HD Thoreau.  


Sometimes this same scare factor propels companies to do stuff on the INTERNET very quickly.  Reactions instead of responses.  In this rush, strategy is always the first step to get cut.  Strategy doesn't return quickly enough to meet quarterly sales report deadlines.  Strategy skimpin'.  The irony is that strategy is now more integral than ever before.

We think a lot of organizations are strategy skimpers because strategy can't be seen like a picture, video, P&L doc, or product packaging can.  Strategy is a thought process and rationale system that underlies and works through all the things we can see.  It's the insight-driven creative backbone that weds human behaviors to existing and emerging products.

We see the result of strategy skimping everywhere we turn.  Aside from spawning insanely dull microsites and banner campaigns, for our agency brethren, it's made life increasingly difficult.  The more complicated technology becomes, the more competitive markets get, the more strategy is needed to produce successful work.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, clients' INTERNET-stuffs marketing/advertising budgets get smaller and smaller.  OMG WTF, you say?

Read on, for good news...

The silver lining is very real.  Smart people everywhere are pissed off.  They know how to use technology and they don't want to be advertised at anymore.  On message boards, comment chains, social media channels, and in plain conversation, they've been debunking the many lies which permeate our marketplace.  They've done their homework to be certain they're no longer susceptible to traditional methods brands have been relying on for decades.  Through ratings and reviews, they're making sure truths surface. 

So, the chief disconnect.  How do we help speed brands along to catch them up with the collective consumer conscience, behavior trends, and expectation set?  How do we help them meet the desires of consumers who wish to be engaged, valued, and treated humanly?

Well, my dearies, there's been a North American and European renaissance in brand strategy and interactive marketing.  An uprising, I say.  All over, we're seeing likeminded thinkers emerge in clusters with a determination to bring creative excellence and strategic thinking to brands.  In fact, there are so many of these little shops popping up that we had to name ours after Mike's first dog KIMBA because names like Prophet and Audacity were already taken!  

We believe it's actually socially irresponsible, and just plain OFF TOPIC to launch a program, campaign, or product without a thorough strategy.  The people can smell its absence from a text ad away! 

Brands must be smarter and more deliberate when it comes to positioning themselves, offering value, and turning an empowered shopper into a lifelong customer.  

This state of affairs excites us.  We relish its multiple challenges and the fierce competition and opportunity it inspires.  We like to partner with folks who are up for the challenge and who know they need to start thinking like strategists or expect significant loss of market share.  Who's down to defy impending doom? #KIMBA


The Business of Social Media (it is a business, right?)

Win the internet..but to win we need benchmarks. In order to set benchmarks, most brands and their agencies focus on how other businesses are using social media.  In this new business of Social Media, we apply historic communication metrics to measure our success: 

  • Size of fans
  • Impressions
  • Viralness (term meaning "a lot of impressions")

Reporting these metrics is how we keep our retainers, win more projects, and justify promotions.

So, are you gunning for a promotion?

Halloween is fast approaching, it's football season, and holy smokes, the Emmy's are almost here!  What are you doing to prepare for the chaotic whirl of opportunities to place your brand in the center of the action? It could be HUGE. Your brand could be the next Oreos.

We've got 27 people.  What can we do?!


4 Social Media Monitors (the geniuses who identified Halloween, football and The Emmys as culturally relevant topics/events)

3 Art Directors (how can our product resemble something in this photo we found on iStock?)

3 Copywriters (what pun works best here?)

2 Community Managers (seriously -- who is going to post this thing--we have like 5 social pages?!)

2 Graphic Designers (where should our product and pun go in the image?)

1 Analyst (to report "buzz")

4 Lawyers (we can't say 'trick r treat' because the Sugar Council of America will be a nightmare)

1 Marketing Director (the KPI is buzz.  Are we buzzing?! Must make sure we're buzzzzzZZZzzzing! - those extra z's get me extra $!)

6 Interns (need someone to blame)

1 Developer (it's definitely gonna need a microsite)


Get on someone's blog post featuring brands that had the best Pumpkin carving of Aaron Rodgers passing the Emmy to Eric Stonestreet while the rest of the Modern Family cast tackles Nick from the New Girl.

If you were excited about that, leave now. If you cringed please hang out, you're cool. 

So, is this type of communication in your strategy?  Did your agency talk you into this?  Is your view of your customers that flat?  Does this strategy really help them get closer to your brand and business?  Your product and service?  Like for real.  Did it?

Social Media and Content can have much more impact and usability when their preconceived viability is abandoned and evolved from more than outward communications and awareness channels.

So, rethink…hard...


4 Social Media Monitors (scouring the web to find opportunities for your brand to create a positive experience for someone during their point in the customer journey)

3 Art Directors (to ideate on creative solutions for your customers' biggest problems)

3 Copywriters (have them audit, organize and edit all company communications so the brand promise and themeline is consistent across all channels and touch points)

2 Graphic Designers (create the visual materials that bring the brand promise to life across every medium)

1 Analyst (research and analyze consumer behavior and user experience and develop insights to share with your company so everyone can build a closer connection to the customer)

4 Lawyers (replace them with coffee pots, just kidding Howard)

1 Marketing Director (go hang out with the customer service dept,  r&d, and interns to soak it all up and rethink your strategy)

6 Interns (pair them with the aforementioned employees so they can actually learn something -- hell, teach something)

1 Developer (build something meaningful, anything, break it, build it again, then use it or kill it and move on to the next thing) 


Reject an ineffective perception of Social Media and solve problems to create closer connections to the people that buy your stuff.