THE CHAIRMAN’S WIFE IN HOT PANTS
Imagine the elderly wife of the chairman of a giant company.
She visits her husband at work one day and notices he can’t help staring at all the young secretaries in hot-pants.
All these girls have legs that go on forever.
She thinks “I’d like him to look at me that way.”
So she goes out and buys herself a pair of hot pants.
Then she wears them when her husband comes home.
She says “Well, what do you think?”
And she can’t understand why she doesn’t get the same reaction.
Big, old agencies are like that.
They see the newer, smaller agencies winning awards with wild advertising.
They want to win awards, too.
So the brief goes out to all their creatives “Win awards, at any cost.”
And what happens?
What they used to call in New York ‘the chairman’s wife in hot pants’ syndrome.
When I was at art school there, all the exciting agencies were the small ones.
They were winning all the awards.
The problem was the big, old agencies got jealous.
Y&R was the second biggest advertising network in the world.
They saw themselves as more creative than the other big agencies.
In fact their President was an ex art director.
Steve wanted to show his agency could win awards.
The problem was, the smaller agencies had smaller clients.
Clients whose ads had to change the status quo in their market.
Y&R didn’t have a lot of clients like that.
Most of their clients dominated their markets.
They didn’t want to change the status quo.
If Frankfurt wanted to win awards, he’d have to try something else.
And he did.
Charity advertising (what Americans call public service).
It was much easier to win an award with a message that said “This can save your life” than it was with a message that said “This will get your clothes whiter”.
So Y&R won tons of awards.
And they established a reputation around town for it.
And they attracted a lot of the most expensive creative talent.
There was only one problem.
All this expensive talent wanted to work on award winning accounts.
Public service accounts.
They didn’t want to work on the accounts that paid the bills.
So the juniors had to work on the multi-million dollar consumer accounts.
Eventually it occurred to these clients.
“Hang on, we’re paying lots of money for this agency to win awards doing work for other people. They’re promoting themselves not us.”
And Y&R started losing big accounts.
And gradually it occurred to Y&R that winning awards was the opposite of what they’d thought it would be.
It was costing them business.
And eventually Steve Frankfurt stepped down as president.
Now does any of this have any relevance today?
Well, I recently saw a letter from a CD to everyone in the network.
The general drift of it was “We must win awards. It doesn’t matter where they come from. If you can’t do it on existing clients, find someone who will let us do it for them.
A charity, a small shop, a local merchant.
It doesn’t matter what you do, from an A4 leaflet, to a commercial, to a FaceBook site.
If it looks like it will win an award, the agency will pay to write it, produce it, run it, and enter it.
But we must win awards at absolutely any cost.”
Ii seems lot of people think this is a new idea.
But actually Steve Frankfurt did it bigger and better 40 years ago.
And it didn’t work then.
So what do we think will happen now?
Well most probably the same outcome all over again.
As soon as the clients who are paying the bills notice what the agency’s doing with their money.
As George Santayana said 100 years ago “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”