October 06, 2008

The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 5: What To Do

The first four parts of this series were the fun parts -- whining about all the problems. This is the not fun part -- finding answers.

I've written three drafts of this post and I still don't know what the hell I'm trying to say. The Crisis of Advertising? I have no idea what to do about it and anyone who says he does is full of shit.

The first draft said we were going the way of the music industry, i.e., evaporating. That's just simply not going to happen.

The second draft said that BDAs (big, dumb agencies) were going to turn into black holes, exploding under the gravitational pressure of their own mass. That's not going to happen either.

So here are some random thoughts about how the agency business needs to change, how you as an agency or you as an individual might want to think about what's next.
  • Contrary to all the nonsense you read, advertising is not dead. You can't swing a dead account planner without hitting an ad. It's everywhere -- urinals, grocery check-out separators, dry cleaning bags. Advertising is thriving, but ad agencies aren't.
  • There just isn't enough value anymore in big, slow, expensive ad agencies. Smart, industrious clients can cobble together small groups to get the work done at lesser cost and with superior creativity. They just don't know it yet.
  • The most important client-side marketing job currently does not exist: Someone to coordinate the activities of a variety of small, nimble marketing and advertising resource providers.
  • The idea that global agencies can provide global marketing solutions is an idiotic fraud that anyone with the intelligence of a gnat can see through. You can't find a single agency to get done everything you need done in Houston, how the hell are they supposed to do it worldwide? That global agencies even exist is a testament to the laziness of global marketers.
  • There will always be a place for BDAs because there will always be BDCs.
  • There will also be a place for regional, independent agencies because there will always be entrepreneurs and regional advertisers.
  • The middle, however, will continue to collapse. This will create big failures and enormous opportunities.
  • The web has turned us all into liars. We pretend the web has opened up huge new advertising opportunities when we secretly know that it has mostly been a dismal failure as an advertising medium. We cling to the few big successes and argue from the extreme. We pretend we know how to "do it all", but we don't. We pretend to be "media neutral" but secretly are either broadcast-centric, print-centric or web-centric.
  • The strategic part of what agencies do is going to disappear. Smart clients have no confidence in account planning. Those who haven't yet, will soon take strategy away from agencies and place it in-house or in the hands of consultants.
  • All their baloney notwithstanding, the huge media buying conglomerates have commoditized media buying and it is becoming a price war.
  • The one and only leverageable asset agencies will be left with will be creativity. The definition of creativity has evolved into more than just making ads, and it will continue to evolve.
  • Agencies will try to create relationships with creative resources outside the industry (directors, writers, performers) and, as always, this will fail. You will need your own outstanding creative resources.
Some strategies to think about:
  • Specialize: Go against the grain. Every agency is trying to convince clients that they can do it all. Instead, be an agency that does only one thing really well. Specialize in retail, or become expert in marketing to Mid-Westerners, or only work on luxury brands, or only do creative work. Find something you can be famous for.
  • Get small and do it yourself: The economics of the ad industry are going to hell. It's hard to make money. Soon big agencies may realize they can be more profitable by outsourcing to smaller, nimbler entities. Become a small, nimble entity (SNE?) Have your own clients and do contract work for BDA's.
  • Confederate: Form a confederated brand with other small, nimble entities. One does strategy. One does creative. One does media planning. One does promotions. You are independent, but you work cooperatively. You provide clients with a single service or a suite of services.
  • Something completely different: This is the most likely answer. The next model for the ad business is likely to be something we haven't even thought of.
Now is a perfect time to look at the ad industry in a new way. Throw away what you think you know. What are the big problems clients are facing? What's a new way to deliver solutions? Times of economic stress force companies to do something they hate -- search for new answers.

This is a great time for new ideas and innovative thinking. Get off your ass and do something different.

The series:
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

Interactive My Ass:
On several occasions (like here and here) I have commented on the fraudulent idea that the internet is an interactive medium. Case in point: On Friday I posted a video and asked people to vote on whether they thought it was funny. Voting required one click of one mouse. We had 1,008 views. 49 people voted. Just to repeat, interactive my ass.

Results Of The Poll:

a) Funny-66%;
b) Not funny -20%;
c) Funny, but easily misunderstood - 14%

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