In my agency days, I always wanted to see firsthand how wellthe sales aids we created worked in the field.

One time as we met for a cup of coffee, the rep I’d beenassigned to asked whether I was going to report on his performance to hisdistrict manager. This was not an uncommon question, so I assured him that Iwas checking only on our work, not his, and gave it no further thought. Bigmistake.  

“Doctor,” he started our first call, “I want to demonstratehow you can cut your antibiotic dosage in half.” And with that he held up thevisual aid and ripped it down the middle.

The point of this anecdote will become clear later. First,though, another recollection: The biggest challenge for agency creatives is toproduce house ads, often leading to agency self-promotion that’s not as good astheir work for clients. 

That’s why the Creative Portfolio that came as a supplementwith the MM&M April issue came as a pleasant surprise: Many of the entrieswere outstanding. Of the 20 companies that participated, an astonishing 17billboarded samples of their ads. That’s putting “show, don’t tell” to thetest. What’s more, many of them reduced the text to a headline or at most asingle paragraph of body copy, further reducing the temptation to engage inempty boasts or a parade of worn-out clichés.

The entry by Goble & Associates struck me asparticularly effective, though there were many other fine examples. WhatG&A managed to do was to get four of their clients to pose with work theagency had done for them, inviting the reader to e-mail any one of them and“ask them yourself” how they had been helped. That’s about as far as you can goin creating credibility, though posting their e-mail addresses would haveclinched it. Maybe they couldn’t get permission. 

Equally impressive was how many of the house ads weredistinctively branded. You didn’t even have to look for their logos. Youimmediately knew, just to cite some examples, that the ads were byAbelsonTaylor, DPM, Palio or Sudler & Hennessey. The S&H series isparticularly ingenious for having turned an everyday symbol into a virtualtrademark, and for having what’s called legs—that is, great continuity withenough of a twist to remain fresh. After all, there are an almost unlimited supplyof familiar two-word phrases connected by an ampersand. 

The branding of the house ads brings up something else aboutthe Portfolio that caught my attention—the many times the ads referred to“brand” or “branding.” By my casual count, the term was used 19 times. That’snot meant as criticism. Rather, it’s an obvious reflection of what agenciesbelieve clients and potential clients want to hear. Branding is the currentholy grail, the “in” word of marketing in the 2000s.

Back to that torn-up sales aid. The underlying strategy wasdeveloped through careful planning by the product team. The focus happened tobe not the product’s dosage advantage, because we knew that anabout-to-be-launched competitor would soon trump us. But it was, long beforethe term became popular, a careful case of branding—making sure the message,the art, the copy, even the color, were consistent across all media, except in at least one territory where the sales rep rippedit up.

So, to use some other “in” words, you can have an awesome strategy and be passionate about totalintegration, but if that rep in the privacy of the doctor’s office has an issuewith it, you can kiss your branding goodbye.