The Adman Is A Servant With Two Masters

The adman has two masters: the client and the customer. You have to serve both well to be successful.

The clients pays for your services, and our work should do its utmost to deliver the results they require, that is a given. But we also have a moral responsibility to the customer to treat them with respect and intelligence, and to provide value either by entertainment, utility, information, or emotional satisfaction.

The great thing is that serving the customer well in this way also serves our clients well. Advertising that treats the audience with respect and offers the kind of value mentioned above is more successful at meeting its goals and makes for a better relationship between the brand and the customer in the long term.

Now a less-enlightened client might think "Fuck that, I pay you, your first responsibility should be to me" and I think that's understandable, and there are clients out there like that. But luckily most smart clients I've had the pleasure of working with always realise that advertising can't just be what they want to say, their has to be some genuine reward there for the customer or viewer.

Reward in advertising has and does take many different forms. If you look back to some early advertising, reward was simply the promise of important information, or a problem solved. As advertising has increasingly used entertainment media as a vehicle, so entertainment value has become more important, and in these days of the interwebs, and two-way communication, utility and function have become important things that we can offer the customer, as well as going right back full circle to the offer of information.

But whatever form it takes, the reward is an important part of the tacit deal that is advertising. If all advertising was just hard messages pushed out to people, with no sense of reward, if people didn't think that there was something in it for them, then it would have probably become obsolete long before now.

These days, people are more attuned than ever to screening out messages that don't interest them, not just advertising, but all messages. Think about the way that you scan a newspaper or a web page, you aren't an obedient drone reading everything in an order that someone has dictated. More likely, you scan quickly around for things that interest, or catch the eye.

Advertising has to deal with this to an even greater extent. People screen advertising more than other content, and the tools to do it more easily are getting better all of the time. Advertising has to clearly flag its value to the customer - be it pertinent information, entertainment or utility - if it doesn't it will be dismissed as quickly as it takes to move the eye from one pixel to the next. And it has to deliver on that promise. And not treat them like a fuckwit.

Serving only one master well isn't good to anyone, either. It's tempting for the adman to just serve the customer. We've all seen work that is very entertaining, or funny or interesting, but really does nack-all for the client. This might make for popular or enjoyed advertising, but in the long-run is going to end very badly when you get found out. And conversely, if you just hammer out a message without thought for the poor customer and what they might get out of it, then you might win popularity with a narrow-minded client in the short-term. But you'll be left with advertising that no one wants to take notice of, and in no time, a brand that no one wants to take notice of either.

Done well though, advertising doesn't have to be the unwelcome guest. It can be a well-received and enjoyed message or communication. It can be a genuinely useful utility or a valuable piece of information. Then you have advertising that people enjoy and use, and even pass on to other people to use or enjoy. That's advertising that feels valuable to the customer, rather than annoying. And, happily, that's also the most valuable kind of advertising to our clients.

The adman is a servant with two masters. Only one of them pays, but they both need serving well.


  1. very well written! I always enjoy your blog

  2. Nailed.

    So many ads today leave you wondering wtf !

    I always play this game with me wife, wait till Coronation Street starts after the ad break and then say - What car was that last ad for?, or What beer was that last ad for? I admit she don't like the game so much, but the point remains she gets very few right. However, now she know what game I am playing she tells me the ads last shown during the Harvey's sponsorship bumper. What game should I play next Vic?


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