SS+K founder flags flatulent fowl in The New Yorker

So I’m remiss in mentioning my favorite employer’s recent inclusion in a Ken Auletta piece on the state of the advertising industry. It’s a great piece and one of our founding partners has a great quote early in the article:

Not everyone in the industry thinks that size is a prerequisite for success. Rob Shepardson, a founding partner in Shepardson Stern + Kaminsky, a downtown Manhattan agency that employs seventy people, believes that the giant holding companies subvert creativity, and that companies like WPP are no more capable of getting their varied divisions to work together than Vivendi and Universal were.

SS+K is independent, but a number of other midsized agencies, such as the Kaplan Thaler Group and Crispin Porter + Bogusky, have managed to keep their identities and creative reputations intact after a takeover….

The article goes on, and then Rob pops up later in the piece:

Rob Shepardson, of SS+K, is skeptical of such campaigns, meant to create awareness for a product, and calls the Aflac duck spots “fart advertising.” Awareness is only “the first step of success,” he says. “I still don’t know what Aflac is.” He says that the ads don’t leave a viewer remembering a single attribute of the company. “My point is that, if you’re spending all that money to get awareness, build a relationship,” he adds. “There has to be a core idea, like ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” But Aflac sales more than doubled in the first four years. “We went from an unknown insurance company in the U.S. to a well-established brand,” Dan Amos says. “Now two of the three largest corporations—U.P.S. and Wal-Mart—offer Aflac.”

While it’s hard to disagree with Aflac’s success, I get what Rob’s saying in general. Even the best TV ads often leave you forgetting who paid for the spot by the time the laughter has faded. Maybe, though, shallow awareness is all you need to get people to ask HR about “that insurance with the duck.” And you can’t argue with the success of the Geico gekko either.

Leaving aside the existential questions about advertising effectiveness, what I really enjoyed about the piece was the silly frisson I felt reading that quote. For all the hilariously profane diatribes I have heard our partners launch into over the past two years [including the most sustained F-bomb volley in recent memory–during a staff meeting no less!], I have to say that Rob is the one I would least expect to say the word “fart,” under any circumstances, let alone during a New Yorker interview. But it’s a great quip, and one that might just have been calculated–a shot across the bow of Aflac-duck-inventer Linda Kaplan Thaler, who in the article’s lead is quoted as telling agency folk, “Don’t worry about whether the news is good or bad. Just get covered. . . . PR breeds PR.” Indeed. So as I re-read the article, I stopped giggling and started taking notes.

I’ve also been remiss in mentioning the article to The Judy, who will no doubt be thrilled to know that the firm I work for was written up in her favorite magazine of all time. Although I imagine she will note, “though it really should be you writing those articles.” And, “did he have to use that word?”

One thought on “SS+K founder flags flatulent fowl in The New Yorker

  1. I was psyched to see an article in The New Yorker about advertising — it seems like a blatant ongoing omission given its birthplace address and the sweeping, tumultuous changes since the .com crash. Maybe I should re-read it too but the first pass was a bit forgettable. Except of course, for the quote equating Linda Kaplan Thaler’s work to a fart. Not something I expected to read in a Ken Auletta piece but I wholeheartedly agree.

    Unfortunately, fart jokes work as do people getting hit in the crotch, slipping and falling, or talking dogs and babies. It does just what the president of Aflac wanted — people to remember a company’s name. It doesn’t reinvent advertising, win an award, or make me wish I had done it. But it did seal LTK’s success. Which is regrettable, because it means lots of clients are lining up for more flatuous advertising we have to sit through.

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