Whatever did happen to the ‘factory visit’?

Admittedly, no one’s exactly visiting anyone these days but I get the sense that no one’s been doing them for some time either.

Why do I feel this?

Well, just a cursory glance at the industry’s output these days would suggest it.

After all, where are the illuminating insights into a brand’s attributes and personality that can make us all view things in an entirely new light?

Marketing is (or should be) about subverting preconceptions and revealing truths that can change opinions.

But what we see, instead, is musical ‘stings’ (the old jingle distilled) and borrowed interest that might achieve fleeting or superficial standout but fail to forge that deeper emotional bond that secures brand loyalty.

As an example of what I mean, one such visit to the home of the UK’s leading brand of writing paper (remember that?) revealed the anomaly of a lab staffed exclusively by PhDs in this and Doctors of that labouring away man and woman – fully to achieve the ultimate sheet of humble A4.

The strapline, ‘Some of the world’s best brains have turned to pulp’ pretty much wrote itself.

A recent campaign for The University of Central Lancashire was inspired by a visit illuminating the true-life journeys of recent alumni, from before to after UCLAN, this thought-provoking transformation crystallised in the strapline ‘Makes you think’.

Over a lunch of currywurst and sauerkraut on a trip to Wolfsburg, meanwhile, an anecdote emerged identifying the VW Passat as the hardest vehicle in its class to break into (a ten-hour marathon on average), leading to the image of an aspiring car thief dug in for the day, perched upon a fishing stool with transistor radio, newspaper and packed lunch to hand.

Finally, an outing to the Douro provided, amongst other things, the revelation that a leading brand of port was ‘Made by a bunch of complete bastardos’ in the form of the remarkable bastardo grape.

So what’s happening here?

Perhaps there’s a reticence on the part of agencies to go beyond the dictates of the client’s marketing team?

Then there’s that time-honoured fear on the agency’s behalf to field those unpredictable creative types with their questionable dress sense and their unexpected questions challenging client sensibilities.

The problem is, of course, that those unexpected questions, and answers, can provide the key to unlocking a brand’s true potential.

So often, the brand’s key point of difference is something taken for granted and overlooked internally thanks to over familiarity. While an objective viewpoint can identify and maximise its true potential.

Which is what a marketing agency, at its best, can do.

And only a complete bastardo wouldn’t want to do that.