88% of Those Surveyed Said Advertising Services Have Become Commoditized? Ad Firms Heal Thy Self!


I am a problem junkie. I see problems everywhere. Problems are awesome as they provide an opportunity for new solutions that we can monetize. Over the years I have called this “the art of thoughts”. Recently I was on the Advertising Age website and participated in a survey that said 88% of those surveyed feel Ad Agency services have become commoditized.

This really bothered me as one of the favorite companies I helped was an integrated marketing firm in North Canton Ohio called Innis Maggiore . I had hired this firm over the years when I was the VP of Sales and Marketing for a local manufacturer, and when our company was acquired Innis Maggiore group asked me to do what I do, and  help them grow. We served a variety of companies from a small Amish furniture maker to MSN.COM , Harry London’s Chocolates, and a local hospital as well as many more. It was easy to help them grow because their work …well it worked, it added measurable value to their clients’ revenues.

(Obviously they never let me help with client copy!)

Honestly, as a buyer of Ad firm services for years I lacked an appreciation of the what goes on behind the scenes. Many times the good firms just made what they do look too easy.The firms I hired would listen to what we needed and produce something that either drove the desired result, usually revenues, or their work had no effect, and I found another firm. Good Ad firm partners like Innis do a great deal of work to ensure their work produces a result. At Innis we often would listen to the client’s objectives, and after the meeting have more questions than answers. So we would go into our clients’ market and interview customers, non customers, and influencers. From these interviews we would gain a better understanding of the problem our clients’ product solves and then we were equipped to turn those amazing creative folks  loose on the solution. They say you need to “walk a mile in another man’s shoes…”well having helped this firm gave me a new appreciation for what goes on behind the final work for market leading firms.

Good Ad firms connect to the problem in the market, understand buyers and speak to those personas in a voice that emotionally connects. When I wrote “blame-storming” I referred to an ad that is amazing. Whoever led the creative for this ad connected with something almost every executive has felt in a meeting at some time…”being thrown under the bus”. This firm nailed it so well that it  made me feel Direct TV knows me…

What is the value of that kind of creative? Creative that cuts through the noise and gets your message to connect with a targeted buyer persona is not priced as a commodity.

When creative connects so deeply with your buyers that it creates an emotional attachment it shows you have a market leading Ad Firm partner.

Market Losing Ad firms will lower their billable hourly rates and write off more of their hours. They will replace their talented creative’s with young kids fresh out of college to drive down their costs. In a recent Ad Age article it discussed how firms are auctioning their services on EBay, offering free work and crazy low rates to capture large accounts from market leading firms.

If you are running an Ad firm today, you must” heal thy self.” Get out and understand the needs of your customers. Create buyer personas for your customers. For example, in today’s environment it should not shock us that the guy in charge of Ad Firms at P&G comes from a purchasing background. You have a new buyer persona. Like your clients, you now have many more people in the buying decision…make it your quest to understand them! If you speak to him in the voice you used with the past CMO you will fail. Get to know him, how does he make decisions? What are his problems, pain points? Just as you conduct focus groups to verify creative before you kick it off for clients, you need to test your new messaging before you launch your firms’ value proposition.

Or, you can keep playing let’s make a deal and keep complaining about how your accounts “just don’t value your work anymore…” And oh by the way, how is that working for you?

Advertising Age’s Jonah Bloom offered seven steps to fight commoditization;

1. Say No

2. Realize you are on the same side as your rivals

3. Specialize

4. Change the cost dialog

5. Accept risk

6. Stop selling ads as a solution to everything

7. Look for new revenue streams

Markets will always have bottom feeders doing stupid things, and rarely do they survive. It is your job to rise up and connect to your client’s needs of today and your firm will survive. If your entire business model is selling ads alone, then you are in trouble. When was the last time an Ad made you take action and buy something? An Ad may play a role in the overall buyer process, but buyers today are doing much more than waiting for the perfect ad to solve their problems. If your model feels like it has become commoditized it is because your customers have lost the connection between your work and the results your work produces. If all you have been “pitching” are more and more Ad’s then they have also lost trust in you.You are speaking to new buyer personas that make buying decisions differently than your buyers in the past. If you are selling a “one size fits all solution” in ads alone, you will fail.

I need to check in with Dick Maggiore. I learned a great deal working with his amazing team. Get to know the customer, buyer and users and speak to them authentically about how you solve their problems… my guess is Dick is struggling more with turning away clients than commoditizing his services.


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