‘Look at me, I’m innovative’

And another thing. What's up with these agency names, anyhow?

And another thing. What’s up with these agency names, anyhow?

It used to be that ad agencies were named like professional organizations, nobly bearing the surnames of the founders. J. Walter Thompson. Ogilvy & Mather. Vickers & Benson. Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, which you were allowed to abbreviate to BBDO, because a celebrated radio comedian said the whole name sounded like a trunk falling down a flight of stairs.

There was pride in those names, and solidarity, and reliability. And what do we have out there today, instead? We have agencies named Taxi, Grip, Zig, Rethink, John Street, and Doug. Granted, these agencies are doing just fine, thank you; but to this old curmudgeon it’s just one more symptom of Agency-land trading in its tone-and-manner of ‘dependable partner’ for ‘cute little flaky idea shop.’

Of course, maybe I’m wrong. (Like George Bush, if you give me advance notice, I’ll be able to think of an example of when I was.) Maybe this is a trend that other professional organizations with blue-chip clients will emulate. Maybe we can look forward to an accounting firm like Deloitte & Touche or Ernst & Young taking down its shingle and putting up ‘Out On A Ledger.’ Maybe I’ll phone a big-time law firm and hear a sweet, friendly voice say, ‘Good morning, Loophole.’

There, that’s off my chest. Now I’ll acknowledge that if you’re going to play the game of ‘Look at me, I’m innovative,’ then a couple of those agency names are pretty good. For example, Zig and Rethink. I haven’t been in their new-business pitches, but I imagine they both advise their prospects to discard the ‘proven’ solutions, zig when their competitors zag. That’s good counsel.

Harvey’s is my favorite current example. They’re in the underdog position against the three huge international burger kings, and a me-too message just ain’t going to cut it for them. And of course, McDonald’s, BK, and Wendy’s have all recently discovered the same thing: health.

Now that the virtuous segment of our world has smokers cowering outside their revolving doors, they have turned their attention to fat people. I just came back from England, and all the papers there are trumpeting a new government obesity study and showing pictures of five-year-olds weighing nine stone. (You figure it out.) In response to this, McDonald’s and their buddies have been shocked, shocked, and therefore discovered salads.

In response, Harvey’s has zigged. (Actually, they’ve John Streeted.) With their competitors racing to the food group with maximum appeal to rabbits, Harvey’s has gone for guys. Their ads drip appetite appeal, and I use drip in the most literal sense. They are bringing back the glory that was grease.

Harvey’s makes no apologies for being a purveyor of lean red meat, and not very lean at that. Their theme line is ‘Long Live The Grill.’ They’ve introduced ‘The Big Harv,’ which somehow amuses me while meeting the Big Mac and the Whopper head-on.

And my favorite piece of their work is a giant billboard with an enormous burger simply captioned, ‘Lift From The Knees.’

This is very good advertising. It is not going to appeal to everybody, but to paraphrase the great Alexander Keith, those who like it will like it a lot.

The Harvey’s agency has thought well. I just wish they’d done the same when choosing their name.

John Burghardt has been president of a $35-million advertising agency, written films for the Shah of Iran, brought home a Cannes Gold Lion, and godfathered the Cookie Monster with Jim Henson. Not considering himself a Type A personality but acting like one, he is currently involved in two New York State theatre projects, a children’s multimedia concept, and a new tourism communications firm known as Geo*dentity. He also returns phone calls and e-mails, at 416 693-5072 and burgwarp@rogers.com, respectively.