Toronto-based advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo has established itself as something of a tongue-in-cheek spokesperson for the industry as a whole. He released a series of videos mocking the industry’s worst practices, spoofing them. While agencies often present themselves in a mundane fashion, Zulu Alpha Kilo takes a playful and provocative approach.
Take this recent video that pokes fun at agencies’ obsession with winning awards. It represents a doctor who wishes to perform a triple bypass on a healthy patient in order to win the award for cardiac surgeon of the year; or, two little girls asking passers-by to hold pictures of empty cookie tins so they can include them in their case study video:
A few years ago, the agency tackled another favorite subject: the traditional pitch process. He pointed out that, unlike advertising agencies, other industries do not provide their potential clients with “specific work” free of charge. It shows the real reactions of the people who have been approached, been asked to provide a product or service for free, to see if the potential buyer likes it before committing to an order:
Zulu followed up with another video that confuses all the wrong ways of handling an agency pitch, from the large number of agencies invited to the way clients behave during pitches, as well as agencies giving in on price and ” groping the transfer of the clicker during the PowerPoint “:
Zulu Alpha Kilo was founded by Zak Mroueh, one of Canada’s best known creative directors in 2008. In 2017, Ad age chose Zulu as its International Small agency of the year, for the second year in a row, and last year as runner-up. Additionally, in 2018, the agency was named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies by Canadian Business magazine. The 100-plus-person agency is growing and plans to move south of the border to New York City next year.
Zulu’s real estate listings are fun and the agency uses them to market themselves. Which begs the question: If advertising is as effective as agencies claim, why don’t agencies advertise themselves? Perhaps the real reason is that agencies fear they will be seen as hopeless and unsuccessful.
Half a century ago, David Ogilvy, an avid follower of real estate classifieds, joked: “The purpose of [category-specific house ads] was to project the agency as learn more about advertising. You can argue that this strategy was misguided, knowledge not being a guarantee of “creativity”. But at least it was unique, because no other agency could have run such ads – they lacked the knowledge. My ads not only promised useful information, but they provided this. And they worked.
Agencies can’t be everything for everyone, but when presenting new businesses, most agency teams are in full-fledged sales mode. I have never heard a team leader who had the guts to say: “We are not made for each other”. And yet, if the agency is a brand, it must have capabilities that sometimes don’t align with the potential client.
Branding is not optional. Advertising is a strong surplus sector with few barriers to entry. Creativity, the only product over which agencies have a monopoly, is often bought by clients on price. The lack of brand image has its consequences. In addition to the gradual erosion of agency margins, many clients still view the fees charged to them as too high, especially if the agency is not differentiated. Agencies pay a huge price to be considered commodities.