For the uninitiated (i.e. people who do not work in an advertising agency), a key number is the name of the advertising agency written on a print ad in a newspaper or magazine. It acts as an identification tool for the agency to generate new business where prospective clients would go to an agency after getting impressed by the creative. However with the advent of afaqs and exchange4media, you get a complete details of which agency is handling which client. Thus you see a lot of ads (that too full page or half page without the key number). The question now arises is how important is the key number and has it lost its sell-by date?
In the good old days of advertising where there were a handful of agencies in India with 15% commission, the clients were wooing the agencies. The tables have turned. Now, the agencies are wooing clients and the commissions are coming down with each passing day. The bargaining power now lies with the clients. If the client says that they want to increase the logo size or the phone number should be more easily readable, the agency has to follow suit. The biggest of agencies in India are under pressure from the client. Thus many times the creative is influenced heavily by the client where the creative team is in complete disagreement and the result is no key number. This means that the agency wants to say that it does not own the creative. It is sort of a silent protest from the agency for the client. But does it really matter? The client wants to sell their product or service. They are not concerned about their creative. A shift in behaviour is also due to the fact that the client doesn’t see any value addition from the account management or planning.
An analogy can be drawn towards a luxury or premium product company wanting to launch a medium priced or low priced product. Without wanting to make the upmarket customer feel like buying a mass product, brands are launched under new names. Thus by not writing a key number, the agency in effect means that it does not agree to the creative. Yet it has to release the ad because of commercial reasons. An offset of this shift in power is the increase in number of scam ads. That is the only way the creative guys can let loose their creative juices.