As we've pointed out before, changing ad agencies is the go-to move when new people take the reins. Among other things, firing an agency is a power trip. It tells everyone there's a new sheriff in town, someone not to be trifled with. And the new agency becomes captive to the whims of that sheriff. All three of BigBeer's biggest light-beer brands have terminated their ad agencies in the last six months. This has never happened before.
But the ugly side of an agency switch can be the sudden and complete loss of institutional memory for a brand. Embracing the proverbial "fresh sheet of paper," clients jettison a wealth of lived history, a deep and ingrained knowledge of the errors, miscues, and triumphs of the brand's past. When an agency has lived this experience, it provides a client an important outside perspective available nowhere else.
Those who make such changes often argue the client retains that institutional knowledge within its own people. Years ago, they might have been correct in this assertion. But today's BigBeer marketing departments rarely have any "old hands" in their ranks. Few client people in place these days have three years' experience on the brands, much less thirty years' experience. This is certainly true of the MillerCoors new top marketing guy.
To be sure, ad agency people are not all good brand historians. Many pursue their own agendas rather than serve the brand's best interests. Yet simply jettisoning nearly forty years of accumulated agency-brand experience, as MillerCoors just did, ought to be grounds for some worry. Institutional memory doesn't provide a reliable guide for every marketing decision. But it can certainly help avoid some of the marketing disasters a new agency might recommend as "unprecedented opportunities."
It's been said before: Those who forget the mistakes of the past increase their odds of making those same mistakes again. Another adage: Ignorance is bliss.
Don't be surprised if Coors Light's yet-to-come new advertising displays the mistakes only ignorant bliss can explain.