I’ve always thought Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (the deus ex machina usually invoked to justify unregulated markets and limitless faith in the private sector) ranks with Neville Chamberlain’s “piece of paper” as a calamitous example of wishful thinking.
The invisible hands in my experience are more often the ones that deliver reverberating slaps from capricious and often unseen ‘management’ (sometimes even their wives and children), or the incessant prodding of the spectres that haunt the second guessers in brand management. There’s a lot of tosh talked about the inherent efficiency of private enterprise, however on close inspection torpid bureaucracy, inherent redundancy, received wisdom and defensive manoeuvring as often as not render the well oiled engine of private enterprise every bit as lugubrious as the clanking machinery of government.
Take for example this particularly horrible piece of advertising. (Sorry, for some reason I can’t embed videos here)
It’s the first work by TBWA, the new agency for WestJet (Canada’s other airline). The carrier recently shifted their account from TAXI, which launched the brand and whose work, while journeyman by their standards, was based around a solid idea and consistent execution that distinguished the brand from Air Canada.
TAXI’s very first campaign was actually killed off in an airport hangar in Calgary where, by presidential fiat, every fucking employee in the company got to give it a thumbs up or down (doubtless the insights of the grease monkeys and the cleaning staff were invaluable), which was a pretty fair indication of the esteem in which marketing and advertising expertise is held at WestJet.
I’ve no idea what soured the relationship with TAXI, but it was likely something tangential to the work (new CMO, insufficiently pliant account group, agency ‘arrogantly’ refusing to reduce its nugatory fee, extortionate photocopying costs, whatever). Come to think of it, the only advertising I can recall for WestJet latterly consisted of routes and prices (which I’m going to guess wasn’t the agency’s first recommendation). So one could speculate that at some point the president threatened to fire the marketing department if they didn’t do something about the disappearing margins. And the marketing department called an agency review to buy themselves some breathing room.
But the unhappy reality is that with all the human and financial resources expended on a doubtless ‘intensive’ review process, it all comes down to the thirty second waste of pixels above. All the rest is human foible and folly. The ad will almost certainly be excused as ‘interim’ (but of course the punters don’t know that), its real purpose being to give the planners time to conduct their brand audits, to arrive at their brand essences (which will probably be similar to something presented and rejected during TAXI’s tenure), to develop their creative brief, to kick off the agonising process (because the learning curve is so fucking steep for a new agency), to get to the real campaign.
Which will get canned the next time Air Canada reduces its prices.
And so, as the estimable Mr. Vonnegut wrote, it goes.