Responding to Goodby: Deeper client knowledge gives better results

Kate SmitherEarlier this week advertising legend Jeff Goodby told a conference agencies should ‘unlearn’ everything they know about clients. Here Kate Smither argues deeper business knowledge displayed by agencies creates better marketing results.

If advertising agencies are not bringing new thinking to their clients then they are really not doing their job and the industry will die. In fact the industry should die.

But I don’t think our ability to think differently is limited by our knowledge of clients’ businesses. The brilliance of advertising is that we can put forward new thinking and unique ideas that will actually drive business results. The brilliance of advertising is not trying to “unlearn” everything in order to keep that thinking pure and fresh.



I think that the idea of unlearning is actually about a call for the industry to maintain a healthy gap between marketing and advertising. I agree that the idea of unlearning is about what we can bring that adds something to marketing. We as advertising should not create a competition to know more. Marketing will know their business more than us and that is as it should be.

But to imply that we can’t do our jobs if we know their business is to suggest that advertising has not moved with the rise of commercial creativity and effectiveness. It is to suggest that long term relationships and business knowledge are incapable of creating new, surprising and fresh ideas. This is simply not true.

It is actually more interesting to think of advertising as an industry of applied learning. One that can take everything it knows about a client and connect it to everything they know about people and the world around a brand. We can find solutions that marketing can’t always get to because we live in the world of this applied thought and new perspectives. This is not thinking outside the box, or thinking from “unlearning” it is about understanding the envelope and pushing it as far as possible. It is about aiming for creativity with results and impact.

Advertising today is more than just a crazy big ad. What advertising covers today is everything from products and positioning, to programs and platforms. I look at advertising and am still constantly surprised by the breadth of solutions we can come to as a collective force. I am constantly amazed by the creativity of the industry.

I am not surprised that this comes from business knowledge and partnership with clients. I am not surprised that this comes from learning. But learning has to be seen as an ongoing process, you can never be done and never say you know everything. That is the beauty of a creative curious advertising mind, it keeps learning, and relearning in a way that is cumulative and powerful.

Kate Smither is group strategy director at M&C Saatchi


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