Yes, this is an ironic image.

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC. AS A CREATIVE INDUSTRY WE JUDGE OUR WORK BY COMPARING IT AGAINST OUR PEERS. JOHN HEGARTY ONCE SAID “95% OF WHAT OUR INDUSTRY PRODUCES IS CRAP”. WE PRETEND WE’RE ‘CONSUMERS’ AND CRITIQUE WITH OUR ANALYTICAL MINDS, BUT ARE WE BEING FAIR? JOHN HARRISON, GROUP STRATEGY DIRECTOR AND EFFECTIVENESS LEAD, WONDERS IF WE’RE EVEN ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION.

I was chatting to a BBH intern (called a HomeGrowner) yesterday, and she told me she’d been asked in an interview at another agency “what is the worst ad you’ve seen recently?”. So she asked me how I would have answered that question.

I went into a rant about an ad that I absolutely hated. I’m not going to say which brand it was. BBH has a long-standing policy of not publicly slagging off other agencies’ work on the basis that it’s hard enough as it is to get great work out there, without other agencies taking potshots from the sidelines (it’s why no-one from BBH does Campaign Private View). 

But safe to say, this ad was absolutely dreadful. It was a pompous homage to a supposed universal millennial attitude, with the product unconvincingly crowbarred in at the end. It made me really angry that this brand, once famous for its brilliant advertising, was producing something so crap. In my mind, the agency and brand team had failed on an industrial scale. 

But on reflection, I was wrong. I owe both the agency and brand team an apology. 

So, I’m Sorry.

Research from Ehrenberg-Bass suggests that only 40% of advertising is remembered, and only 40% of that is correctly branded. This means that 84% of what we as an industry produce is utterly irrelevant. 

This irrelevance is what failure on an industrial scale really looks like.

At least the ad I hated was in the 16% of ads that I’d actually seen and could correctly name the brand. At least I’d noticed it. 

As Bill Bernbach said, “If no-one notices your advertising, everything else is academic”. 

That was when I realised that the question our Homegrowner had been asked was fundamentally flawed. The very fact the answer required you to pick something from the 16% meant that it was nowhere near as bad as the 84% of dross that gets churned out each day without causing even so much as a ripple. The utterly irrelevant majority.  

Maybe a better question would be “what brands are failing on an industrial scale because you can’t remember anything they’ve done recently?”