Why brands need to stop spinning the agency tombola

Many brands are stuck in a doom loop of perpetually hiring and firing their creative agency. You might recognise the pattern:

After a ‘poorly’ performing campaign, the agency is put under huge pressure to find a new idea. Meanwhile, the client loses faith and begins the hunt for a shiny new ‘partner’ that can get their brand back on track. The cycle repeats yet the fundamentals go unaddressed. A client of ours, who heads up the marketing team at a leading UK brand, reflected on this way of working recently:

‘Really, it’s like spinning a tombola. You’re essentially hiring creatives to solve strategic problems, it never works.’

Here are a few reasons why spinning the tombola is bound to fail, and what to do instead.

1. Brands need consistency

Firstly, and most importantly, the result of a chaotic process is a chaotic brand.

As Byron Sharp puts it, ‘brands should create and maintain distinctive brand assets’. The biggest and best do just that.


Brands spinning the tombola, however, end up all over the place. Take Diet Coke. Does it want to be a fashion, health or early adopter brand? Its positioning, claims and brand world seem to change with every campaign.

Image set 3

And what about a newer brand like Uber - is it logistical and techy, or a sleek cosmopolitan? Two global rebrands in almost as many years don’t bode well.

Image set 4

If you keep spinning the tombola, you end up with a lack of consistent personnel, process and direction - creating ineffective brands that border on schizophrenic.

2. ‘Always launching’ brands overspend on media

Brands that keep chopping and changing how they look, feel and sound also end up grossly overspending on media.

This is because they’re effectively in a permanent state of ‘re-launch’, needing to land an ever-changing collection of new assets.

Plus, with no coherent strategy, these brands create bland and erratic campaigns. The negative knock-on effect of this is spending yet more cash to drive salience, in the vain hope that just being seen will make up for what is being seen.

Image 5

Take Trivago’s uninspiring cultural wallpaper - which is more common on the London Underground than the tube map itself.

3. Time spent on pitching is time wasted on brand building

Thirdly, the time clients lose pitching their account could be better spent elsewhere.

On the back of a campaign that didn’t feel great, the brand team already expects poor results, and waiting for the debrief is like waiting for a gauntlet to fall.

When it does, the client then spends the next six months running a pitch process and looking for an agency with whom they have good ‘chemistry’ and that really ‘gets’ their brand and culture.

However, time spent looking for ‘the one’ could be much better spent nurturing the relationship with the incumbent - which starts with giving them a sound strategy and brief.

But sometimes it’s easier to run a pitch (and be subject to all the flattery and schmoozing that accompanies it) than to put in the hard yards of understanding consumers, defining your long-term brand strategy and writing inspirational briefs.

Give everyone the best chance of success

Brands with a strategy sit head and shoulders above those who are just hoping to ‘get lucky’.

They give everyone (client and agency) the best chance of success. They know the drum they should be beating for the next 3 to 5 years, not just the next quarter.

Image 6

Good Food Deserves Lurpak, a strategy that made the brand the most valuable in its category, and one which is still going strong after more than decade.

This means defining an overarching brand strategy and plan that allows all creatives - whether in-house or agency - to thrive.

Getting it right can turn a brand around and move it ahead of the competition. So if you want to stop spinning the tombola, come and chat with us.