On November 11 we published the first installment of a four-part response to Mike Drexler’s September 28 column “The Advertising Industry As We Know It Is About the Blow Up!” written by David Smith of Mediasmith. It proved equally combustible, as evidenced by the giant response to industry veteran Blaise D’Sylva’s November 17 column about Smith’s column, "Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Busch Media Group was Ahead of Its Time."
And now, MediaVillage is pleased to present the third installment of Smith’s four-part response to Drexler’s original column.
My second response to Mike Drexler’s column surrounded the issues of technology and ad blocking as they relate to programmatic buying. This week, I’ll be responding to Drexler’s facts about ad quality, talent and the rise of start-ups.
Drexlerbelieves advertising in all forms is not necessarily getting any better. “If you spend time with virtually any medium (on or offline) you can understand why ad blocking is so attractive. Sure there are exceptions, as there always have been, but advertising today seems to be more about getting attention than making genuine emotional connections,” he wrote.
My response: Tell that to Coca-Cola, Nissan, Nike, Gap, Dove, P&G and Budweiser to name a few. It could be argued that some ad creative has never been stronger. The new approach -- story-telling, sharing personal, relatable life experiences to ultimately sell a product or service -- has replaced “speeds and feeds” and “features and benefits” with how it makes you feel or improves your life.
Great storytelling informs Demand Generation -- a more subtle approach to driving demand for an industry or product based on identifying pain points that a brand can ultimately solve. If good creative puts a face on a brand, the new creative approach puts a story in your mind. Xerox recently reinvented themselves with great storytelling, Apple (arguably the first, best storytellers), Google, Lenovo, et cetera. Tide caught on to storytelling and replaced its stale offering of features and benefits with personal, humorous, relatable stories -- attracting a new generation of couples and families. However, the drive towards immediate ROI can be a spiral of death. It is fueled by public companies that must always make or beat “The Street” in their quarterly sales and earnings.
Back in a kinder/gentler world, most advertising was brand advertising. Sure, DR existed but in its own silo, often in its own time period. Today, every campaign seems to have a DR or DG component -- often at the expense of establishing long term brand equity. And it is to a large degree these DR ads that lower the bar on standards. Companies have forgotten, or some are so new that they never learned, that responsiveness is much easier when you have brand equity. The industry needs to educate advertisers in this area. It’s not enough to say “Produce better ads.” The benefits of doing so must be clear. IAB/ANA/4As, this is worth funding.
Drexleralso believes advertising isn’t attracting the talent it used to. As he put it, “The agency business was not just about making money. It was art and science as well as financial interest. Writers and art directors had strong motives for doing great work (not just to win awards) and they understood the commercial side about building client sales. Big ideas, unique storytelling, compelling connections that sold products -- that was the end game. Now the agency attraction has waned and, even worse, there is little investment in training young people. Get it from the get-go or find a job somewhere else.”
My response:I think this problem is interrelated with the always looming financial crunch. Cutting margins means cutting the biggest cost, which is people. If clients want strategic media planning and buying, they are going to have to start paying for it again rather than use each agency change or contract review as a reason to reduce compensation. Training isn’t just taking the time to develop talent, it is also taking the time to truly understand a client’s business. For an agency to be truly effective it must be a marketing partner, or the agency model as we know it is doomed to fail -- especially in the creative arena. Interestingly, according to estimates by Amy Hoover, the president of Talent Zoo, a reported 50% of jobs in creative aren’t at advertising agencies -- they are at Facebook, Google, Vice, Apple, BuzzFeed, et cetera.
From a media perspective, it’s also a function of funding. The slim margins in media result in a training ground, but one where media folks flee to the tech companies that are sometimes offering as much as double the pay with unlimited vacation and other benefits. The long term question for the tech companies is whether this is sustainable. Right now, the tech companies don’t have to make money. But as they do, aren’t their salaries likely to be more in line with the market? And can a job at a vendor be as satisfying long term as one at a strategic partner?
Drexler thinks the above also might have been exasperated by the rise of the start-ups, which offer full support and flexibility to clients. “Personal service and unequivocal commitment have also given rise to smaller creative shops in addition to specialized media agencies, consultants and ad tech companies that dedicate themselves to clients in a way that used to be mainstream,” he wrote.
My response:The rise of startups and the talent drain are interrelated. As stated above, the startups seem to be able to afford to pay the same people more than the agencies. As such, many of the marketing tech companies are supplanting agency services. It almost seems like agencies should be recreating themselves in the image of startups, with small specialized media agencies, consultants, et cetera.
Perhaps agencies have grown too big? Jay Chiat used to say, “How big can we get before we get bad?” It’s possible that the big agency model will start to become a thing of the past. What good is a global AOR if you have to operate differently in every country? A team that works on a single piece of business (whether it be media or creative) can exist just as well in a shop of 50-200 as in an agency with thousands of people. The advantage of clout that these large holding companies seem to have is starting to disappear because technology is the great leveler.
In my fourth and final response to Drexler’s column I will talk about Wall Street Influence and Overwhelming Data.
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