The Misguided Power of Popular

February 27, 2007 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Last week, Ad Age broke the story that CareerBuilder.com was putting its account in review because the new spots created by agency Cramer-Krasselt failed to make it onto USA Today’s list of the Top Ten most popular Super Bowl commercials.

It’s a new day, folks.

Cramer-Krasselt is and has been a great agency for a long time. Forget the fact that they do great work for clients like Hyatt, Heinz, Air-Tran and Corona. Their work for CareerBuilder has been standout for years. In fact, it’s been better than that.
Just last fall, on September 15, Cramer’s “Monk e-mail” viral marketing program for CareerBuilder.com won not just Best Internet Campaign, but Best Overall Campaign at AdWeek’s The Next Big Idea Conference, besting 360 other entrants. Even compared to Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken,” — the Holy Grail of viral marketing — Monk e-mail was a winner. Over its lifetime, “Subservient Chicken” drew 14 million unique visitors. In its first eight months, “Monk e-mail” drew 9.1 million and was still rising.

But now, after their new TV spot finished 16th out of 57 ads tracked for the Super Bowl, Cramer-Krasselt finds themselves in a review. Not because the spots didn’t generate sales. Not because the spots were ill-produced or off-strategy. Not even because the account supervisor went out to dinner and rode in a car with someone she wasn’t supposed to. The spots just weren’t popular ENOUGH.

What a difference 142 days makes.

It’s possible there’s more to the story than we know. It’s possible Ad Age didn’t get all the information. But if even the basic tenet of the story is true, it’s troublesome. This comes on the heels of another Ad Age article that says while marketers can’t accurately gauge agency ROI, many feel “vague disenchantment” and are giving their agencies a failing grade. Seriously?

What happened to partnership? What happened to fighting the fight side by side? What happened to an equitable, win-win sort of thing between agency and client? It doesn’t have to be “Mi Casa es Su Casa,” but if there’s not a respect for each other and a positive, supportive culture for the relationship, you might as well be scaling the marketing mountains you have to climb with a backpack full of rocks.

I’m not naive enough to believe all agency-client relationships are, or can be, the picture of health, but from my perspective, there are some fundamental expectations each side should be able to count on.

If you’re a client, you deserve an agency who will bust their ass for you every day. One that will learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future. You deserve an agency that will be honest with you, even when the truth is hard to deliver. You deserve an agency that’s smart, passionate, agile, attentive, organized, fair, honest and brave.

You deserve an agency who lives your brand and cares as much about it as you do. And one who understands the balance between creativity and selling something.

Recently, I read a wonderful quote that put this balance in perspective. I thought it extremely pertinent for today’s advertising as celebrity environment where creative is king and often sales are an afterthought. Where even clients relish the entertainment value of the work that’s produced, more than the actions they are supposed to inspire. The quote said this:

“I believe that the primary responsibility of truly creative people is not to exercise creative freedom! They must know what is good creative work, and what is merelypretentious acrobatics… We should re-define “imagination.” It leads too many advertising astray. Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics and verbal gymnastics is not being creative. The creative person must harness his imagination. He must discipline those wild impulses– so that every thought, every idea, every word he puts down, every line he draws, every light and shadow in every photograph he takes, works to make more vivid, more believeable, and more persuasive his product story.”

If I told you the quote came from some account executive, you’d believe me. If I told you it came from a creative harnessed to too many mandatories and too few opportunities, you might believe that too. But neither is true.

The quote is Bill Bernbach’s.

Now, as it has been from the beginning of the creative revolution, we as agencies are only as good as the brands we help build and the sales we help generate. That’s not to say we alone are wholly responsible for the brand or sales. But if they do not lie at the heart of everything we do, we’ve lost our way.

Anything else is just a quest for popularity.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.