June 05, 2013
Everything Gets Bigger
Over the past few weeks I've been mildly obsessed with the damage that globalized ad holding companies have done to the ad industry. Just allow me one more post about it and then I promise to move on to whining about something else.
There is very little good that has come from the consolidation of the ad business. The only beneficiaries have been the sharks at the top of the food chain. So why does it go on?
I have come to the conclusion that all human endeavors follow an irresistible path toward bigness.
I think that the trend toward bigness goes on in advertising because it goes on in everything. Big businesses gobble up small ones. Big countries gobble up small ones. Big organizations gobble up small ones.
Even when no one is gobbling, human institutions seem to have an uncontrollable urge to merge and get bigger -- e.g., the United States, the European Union, Sprint Nextel, the National Football League...and a million others.
In the cosmic world, scientists tell us that physical forms want to decompose. They call it entropy. In the human world, social forms want to aggregate.
Humanity used to be organized into a million little tribes and a have thousand little gods. Now we have 200 big countries and one giant god. We used to have a different mens' shop on every corner, now we have the Gap. We used to have pen pals, now we have Facebook.
Everyone seems to want to be part of something bigger. They may claim to prefer smallness and independence, but they rarely do.
In business, the tendency to consolidate is partially driven by economies of scale and partly by misguided government policies that punish small businesses and reward large ones. The U.S. tax code is essentially thousands of pages of special pleading for certain entities -- the big ones that have friends in Washington. This gives them enormous advantages
Of course, there are always cross-currents. While one system is growing another is falling apart. There are often reversals during which organizations grow too big or too dumb and decompose (e.g., the Soviet Union.) But in the fullness of time they usually re-organize under new management.
I am sure some historian or economist has already written about this and, as usual, I am late to the party.
The magnetic attraction of "big" seems hard-wired. I doubt that it bodes well for advertising or, for that matter, most human endeavors.