Clients and Creative Judgement

I re-watched this video recently having just experienced pretty much the exact same scenario in a real life creative review. For anyone who works in a creative agency, the client interference parodied here is frustratingly common. But obviously this view is a little one sided.

Our clients pay for, and therefore are justified in assessing, our work. But it’s one thing to look at creative ideas and form opinions on whether you like them. It’s quite another to mandate where the advertisements should be set, who should be featured in them and what the copy should say. Typically it’s the clients whose creative judgment you rate the least, that are the most prescriptive about what they’d like to see in their Ad.

To be fair, they’re not interfering just for kicks. Our clients are intelligent people and their feedback is always based on what they genuinely think will make their advertising more effective. The problem is, they’re not experts in advertising effectiveness.

Clients know their business. They know their product. And (usually) they know their brand. However they know significantly less about content, communication and people.

Many clients find it difficult to look at a written script and visualise what the end product could look like. The more original the creative idea, the more difficult they find it. Many clients don’t understand the psychology of persuasion and decision making, where the more explicitly you tell the customer what to think or do, the less effective your message becomes.

Many clients (not without some cause) believe their agency are resisting their plea for more product shots because the creative team don’t want to ruin a potentially award-winning piece of advertising art. Many agencies believe that the marketing team are trying to cover their ass by making the message as direct as possible and the brand as focal as possible. That way if the advertising doesn’t shift product, the marketing department can’t be blamed. This is an understandable motive but one which undermines the the very goal they are trying to achieve.

So this mismatch in opinion between clients and agencies keeps arising, with each side claiming that the other side “just doesn’t get it”. The main issue behind all of this however, is trust.

Paradoxically, the more an agency appeases their client on strategic and creative differences in order to maintain a good relationship, the less trustworthy their advice becomes in the future. The client will unsurprisingly start to see their role as reigning back unruly creative suggestions and putting the advertising back on track.

And this situation is our own fault.

If we don’t show conviction in our recommendations, is it any wonder our clients don’t see any difference between agency expertise and their own opinion? There’s always room for discussion and debate, as many client suggestions have plenty of merit. But in order to develop a truly trusted client relationship and more importantly to deliver truly effective work, agencies need to stand firmer.

Then maybe we can reclaim our position as the experts in advertising effectiveness and creative judgment.

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