The wife, they say, is often the last to know when her spouse is cheating on her. Or, vice versa.
Agencies sometimes face a similar situation when dealing with clients. Here is one classic case of perfidy: A leading packaged goods advertiser has given its corporate advertising project not to its big ad networks, but to a small outside agency, which is proving 60% cheaper. Its agency partners don’t know about this, since this commercial is being beamed not on public networks but to investors and restricted vendor circles. Interestingly, the advertiser finds the quality of the commercial good enough to promise the small shop some more ad projects. It will, however, continue to keep this relationship a secret from its agencies, which tend to recruit high-profile film-makers—a needless expense, this advertiser feels, for a “small” job.
In another incident, a junior brand manager appointed an outside agency to do some promotional ads, since there was a time crunch, without informing the incumbent agency.
Such stealth is surprising at a time when clients and agencies are talking about transparent working relationships, and agencies are paid by fees and rarely commissions. Most big advertisers have multi-agency partners to handle different brands or chores. There is usually no secrecy, even when the advertiser decides to tap agencies out of its roster of ad networks for fresh thinking. Development for Unilever Inc.’s Superbowl ad for Sunsilk was led by a strategic planning boutique called BrandThinkTank. Meanwhile, a large automobile advertiser here makes its empanelled agencies pitch for each new campaign and does not assign specific brands to its agencies in order to foster innovation. Again, when the creative echelons of a leading ad agency changed recently, its cellular service client farmed out an ad project to a freelancer—though only after informing its agency.
Still, it is not unknown for advertisers to hand out sales promotions, direct mail and brochures, and design projects elsewhere without their agencies’ knowledge. Agencies themselves wink at this practice since these jobs are considered tedious, less paying and not as important as brand-building work.
But, as the communications value chain itself changes—for example, brand communications may lead by design these days—agencies themselves start chasing the function they were willing to let go before. All this secrecy could, however, cause dissonance in brand image. Imagine the same person watching corporate image ads created by two separate agencies, with no brand stewardship.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor.
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