Slap the ad agency around a little


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It’s been a grubby and most unseemly affair in ad land hasn’t it?

In case you had bigger fish to fry: MTN’s principle ad agency, the high flying Metropolitan Republic entered and inconveniently – as it turns out – won a premier accolade for an inspiring piece of commercial communication at the annual Loeries Awards.

But there was one small problem. The work itself had never in fact seen the light of day.

It was in concept phase at the time of entry. And ancillary to this were competitor mutterings that the central idea was not even a new one. By the way, tip for brand managers: recycled ideas in advertising often go by the name research.

Anyway there has been much wailing, gnashing of teeth, accusations, counter-accusations, impossible technical justifications, meting out of punishment and, finally, resolution where the guilty agency has said sorry, fallen on its sword and promised never to be bad again.

The little storm cloud might have passed us by, but brands that spend millions on advertising – in MTN’s case over half a billion rand a year - need to learn some hard lessons here.

As obese people gobble crispy fried bacon butties and sugary pastries, ad agencies like and thrive on awards.

If they’re not competing and winning, they are, in effect, not performing and that’s bad for the brand that is shelling out money.

The problem is most agencies like to cut corners in order to get that place on the podium or the statue on the shelf. Just like Lance Armstrong needed a little extra help up Mont Ventoux, agencies will inevitably seek out or manufacture some form of enhancement or at least think about it.

Some get away with it and some are caught. That’s the biz.

So while brands need to encourage their agencies at every turn to find the glory, they need to be aggressively more robust in determining how their brand is being used in this regard.

So, as usual, let me save the day and come to the rescue.

All work entered in advertising award shows should in future be verified and certified by the head of marketing in the company and validated by an external and independent auditor.

That little stamped document should accompany all awards entries which would be refused without it.

And agency MD’s (not creative directors) should also be made to sign a declaration of originality, honesty and authenticity.

Awards shows themselves should also find the capacity to interview the brand and agency, should the faintest whiff of a rat be smelt.

And if transgressions are found, the punishment needs to be brutal. Lifetime bans are usually a good deterrent. Now we wait to see what MTN will do.

The easy option would be to put the agency over a big yellow-carpeted trapdoor and pull the lever.

But don’t forget, this is an agency that has constantly produced head turning, brand shaping work that has helped achieve real bottom line success.

And brands know that changing agencies is like changing a bank. A bitch.

I’d take Metropolitan Republic down to the MTN basement, slap them around a little, make that moving double finger, eye-pointing threat and then try and get some free penitence work out of them. Then move on.

This was not an act of terrorism or a massacre for goodness sakes.