September 22, 2008

Crisis Of Advertising, Part 3: Talent

This is Part 3 of a 5-part series on "The Crisis of Advertising." You can find the first two parts here: Part 1, and here: Part 2.


At one point in my career I left the agency business for three years and did creative work directly for clients. During those three years I learned a very important lesson about ad agencies. Clients do not like working with us.

They mostly laugh (behind our backs) at our supposed strategic abilities. They see very little value in what we call "account service." They believe they can get media planning done anywhere.

They put up with us for one reason and one reason only. We're their only source for creativity.

Or at least we have been.

A very significant part of the crisis we are facing is that talented young creative people used to strive to work in advertising. They no longer do. And if we don't have creativity to sell, we got nothin'.

In Part 1 of this series, I stated that "The crisis is not being caused by the internet. The internet should be a boon to advertising." There is, however, one way in which the ascendancy of the web is harming ad agencies. We are allowing it to draw off a whole generation of talented creative people.

Not long ago, young people with creative talent had three options.

First, they could go into fine arts. They could write novels or plays. If they were visual artists they could go into painting or sculpture. If they were musicians they could play or compose serious music.

Second, if they were talented but not quite brilliant, they could go into the popular arts: writing for tv or movies, pop music, or popular art.

Third, if they were talented but couldn't make it in the world of fine art or popular art, there was commercial art, including advertising.

(I know. Gross generalizations. Obviously, there have been some brilliant commercial artists and some terrible "fine" artists. In general, however, it is true that there is a hierarchy of fine art, popular art, and commercial art.)

The web has changed this in two ways. For one thing, it is now possible to bypass the standard routes to creative success. Talented people who previously had no access to channels of artistic exposure can now show their work on the internet at a cost of about zero.

Next -- and most critical to us in the ad business -- working in digital media has become far more attractive to them than working in traditional advertising.

A great many talented young people who in the past would have been drawn to advertising are now choosing to create for the web. And they are not creating "ads" for the web. They are creating websites, games, social networks, blogs, videos, and all manner of oddball hybrids. They have an alternative to what we used to consider "commercial art."

Put yourself in the place of a young, talented person. You can work for a big, clumsy ad agency that is toiling for huge corporations and have dozens of dumb-as-dirt knuckleheads sticking their sweaty fingers into everything you do, or you can work for yourself, or a smaller entity, where you don't just use your imagination to sell things, you use it to actually create things.

The ad industry is not attracting these talented young people like it used to. And it needs them desperately.

If we cannot provide clients with the one thing they really want from us -- creativity -- there is little future for the ad industry as it is currently configured.

Later this week: The Crisis of Advertising, Part 4 - The Brain Drain

Speaking Of Brain Issues...
wishes for a quick recovery to The Ad Contrarian Contrarian.

The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 1
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 2: Consolidation
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 3: Talent
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 4: Brain Drain
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 5: What To Do

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