Monday, 8 February 2016

Is Feldwick's benign conspiracy really benign?



We open on a vain king and a pair of tailors (you've heard this story but stay with me). The tailors promise to weave the finest suit for the king; with one catch: the garment can only be seen by the smartest of people. 

The king agrees and the tailors spin him the suit. And, to prove he was smart, the king absolutely adored it. So much, in fact, that he promptly paraded his new 
suit through town.

Not wanting to appear stupid, all the townspeople admired the king. That is, before a boy yelled: "He's got nothing on!". Spell broken, the crowd saw the truth - the king was naked. 

If the king was our client. Are we (advertising agencies) the tailors, the crowd or the boy?

I'd say some agencies act like the 'tailors', hustling illusory and concocted ideas of how advertising works - which they know the client will buy. Rosser Reeves' USP is a great example. 

Others are the 'crowd'. The ones who read the top 10 advertising books (i.e. Lovemarks) full of hunches, and blindly believe them without needing any evidence. Most social media agencies (peddling that growth comes from hyper-loyalty) are a good example.  

And finally, there's the 'boy'. Which, thanks to the Ehrenberg Bass institute and the IPA's research into effectiveness, there's been a recent surge. I.e. Bob Hoffman, Byron Sharp, Martin Weigel.  

But, as Paul Feldwick observes in his phenomenal book 'The Anatomy of Humbug', it's not black and white. Typically, agencies aren't one or the other. In reality, they're all of them. 

He calls it 'the benign conspiracy'. Which hypothesises that all three characters are happening complicity inside an agency. 

The planners are the 'tailors' (telling the client what they need to hear to get an idea up), the suits: the 'crowd' (being obsequious to the king/client), and the creatives: the 'boy' (dropping truth bombs - putting ideas first). 

Like Van Damme doing the splits between two Volvo trucks, this is a delicate and dangerous balancing act. 
How do you think the king felt when the penny dropped he was naked? 

Probably the same way our clients will feel if we persist with the (airquotes) 'benign' conspiracy. So, what do you think, is the benign conspiracy really benign?

Christopher Ott

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