The Rise of the In-House Frankenstein


When Doctor Frankenstein first saw his creation come to life, he exulted, “It’s alive!” While he had brought to life a thing that could shuffle slowly, make guttural intonations and throw children down wells, he couldn’t see what his animated miracle really was.

An ugly baby.

Of course, when I talk about Frankenstein, I’m really talking about the new trend for companies to do all of their advertising in house. While they might save money and even enjoy the convenience of throttling their creatives and brand strategists without having to leave the building, they’re missing something that will remain the ultimate value of the external ad agency: Objectivity.

No matter on what side of the operation table you stand, you’ve seen this happen. A client has a grand vision. They share the vision with the agency. The agency comes back with materials to communicate the vision and *gasp* have leavened it with reality. The client claims the original vision came in a dream—and from what the sales force, distributors, retailers, PR staff and teenage daughter in her first year as a communications major had to say.

Bottom line: “We aren’t changing my vision.”

I recall from my own experience, after presenting an engaging campaign that played to the product’s assets and was loved by the whole agency and the client’s own marketing people AND a round of focus grouping, the client said this—and you’ll notice I’m not naming names here—“Our product has a story to tell. You fear that it might be dull, but…if dull is what it takes, we must dare to be dull.” We stood our baby up, rearranged its arms and legs, put electrical bolts on its neck and dared to make it dull.

The ensuing multi-media campaign was seen and recalled by one and a half consumers. The client apologized and gave us free rein to guide the marketing. Sales spiked.

Clients with real vision (Mr. Jobs, anyone?) seek out agencies (say, Chiat Day) who will give them not only great ideas, but a solid-gold, third-party view point. Objectivity interprets research with more accuracy, sees the weaknesses and strengths of brand offerings more clearly and will lean farther out to nab the golden ring.

In-house agencies do have their merits, but what kind of objectivity can they achieve by living in the belly of the beast and seeing the marketplace through its navel? Perhaps great things will be achieved by companies taking this route.

Then again, maybe their marketing creations will lurch to life, shamble off a castle parapet and plunge into a mob of, not angry, but disinterested villagers.

– John Graham, Copy Director @ Creative Dimensions