Selling. Where The Fun Is Hiding.

When we set up The Barnacle Upon The Side Of The Advertising Whale that is our modest little outfit Sell! Sell!, one of our main motivations was to create a place where it was finally okay to openly admit that we're selling our clients' product and service.

Well, not just be okay, to fully embrace and be motivated by the simple fact that selling is the whole point of what we're doing.

I suppose we'd just become frustrated working at places where it wasn't clear what everyone was there for.

It seemed planners were interested in mental gymnastics and postulating about social trends on the client's nickel. Creatives were just interested in making fun stuff, or working with famous people, or making something that might bag them an award (no product, small logo, full bleed picture etc.). Account people were just interested in making sure something was done that the client said yes to. And the senior management were just interested in whatever was best for the bottom line in the short term.

No one in any meetings or discussions about work ever seemed to talk about what might help our clients sell more of their product or service to more people more of the time. And if we brought it up, it was like taking a dump on the boardroom table. Everyone would just turn their noses up at you.

And lets be clear, you can dress it up in whatever new fancy way that you like to make yourself feel better about it. What the companies that employ ad agencies are almost all looking for is to sell more of their product or service to more people more of the time.

We put it in the company name so that no one ever forgot.
With exclamation marks.

We had a little expression what for what we do. We put it up on the wall in our first office. "Salesmen with marker pens".
(written in marker pen, of course)

And you know what?
Selling is fun.

In the US, there seems to a natural acceptance and embracing of selling and the idea of being a customer, and customer choice. There's an energy around this dynamic.
The best US ads crackle with wit and smarts, they make a play for your cash with well intentioned, well delivered salesmanship.

In the UK, it's taboo. It's never really out there. You can see it in our reluctance to haggle or to complain when products or services aren't up to scratch.
And yet, when it comes to advertising, I think that people in the UK have always kind of accepted that ads are trying to sell them things. Historically, the very best ads in the UK were almost as upfront as US ads about what they were trying to do.
But not these days, today the UK ad industry treats any kind of commerce or selling, or being seen to try to pitch a product like a smelly homeless relative.
Ads spend 28 seconds beating about the bush, then apologetically pop up the logo for two seconds flat.
It's like an over-polite middle-aged man at a party trying to find out where the loo is.
"Er, er, excu-excuse me, nice curtains by the way, er, very sorry, I don't suppose you could direct me to..."
"For God's sake Norman, get to the fucking point."
It's painful.

And it seems to cause much pain and consternation within our conundrum of an industry. There's so much self-loathing out there. So many people questioning what they're doing. So many people not having fun.

But it is pretty simple really. If you like the idea of using your brains/skills/creativity/guile to help your clients sell more products to more people more of the time. To see if you can influence behaviour and choice through your ideas and work, and help companies grow in the process. If you accept and embrace that that is ultimately what the business is all about. If you approach every assignment with the simple goal of every word you write, mark you make, idea you have, or scene you shoot, being there to make the advertising you do work harder and be more persuasive...

Well, it's a hell of fun business to be in.


With thanks to Dave Trott for his great post "Anyone remember selling?" which prompted me to write this down.


  1. it's comedic how much we agree vic. love this post. just read dave's post too. i'm telling you, there's a future in this whole crazy "selling stuff" idea!!!

  2. The whole awards shebang occupies the every waking thought of most creatives. The actual effect that their creative work has in the real world on the client's product is often a million miles away from their minds.

    Sure, there are some rare exceptions and every ad agency in town would profess to be primarily interested in shifting a client's product. However, the reality behind this veneer is very different. In every agency I've ever worked in it's all smoke and mirrors hiding the warring egos and different agendas in play all the time whilst the agency scrabbles around trying to make as much money as possible.

    Sad but true.

  3. on the dandad jury this year, we actually asked the questions, will it work? does it do the job?

    funny how a recession refocuses people. well, some people.

  4. Cheers Vinny.

    Agreed anon 08:41, every agency proclaims to be about 'effectiveness', but often they measure their effect in quite oblique and obtuse ways. And, ultimately, an agency is no more or less than the sum of the people who work there - if those individuals don't think their job is about selling then the agency's work won't be.

    Mr Legs! - nice to see you dropping by. I can't quite believe what you say - is it a wind-up?

  5. nope, no wind up.

    it was quite refreshing.

    like d&ad was in the 90's.

    less wanky.

    or rather, just enough wanky.

  6. Ha ha, I can picture it now, Mr Legs. Lots of people in silly trousers muttering under their breath "What d'you mean does it work? No one said anything about that, I thought this was an awards show?".


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