Danielle Sacks has posted a fascinating appraisal of the advertising world at FastTimes.com that demonstrates how behind-the-curve many advertising agencies are. The digital age is spawning what she calls ‘the first creative revolution since the 1960s,’ when image and copy and design were handed over to experts within vertical agencies who worked for the client, but not at the behest of the client. Despite the technological changes of the last couple of decades though – changes that have put the power of descent cameras and desktop publishing software in the hands of consumers – a number of agencies are still thinking in a 1960s model. What is happening to these agencies? How are they coping with the changes?
Her extended on the work of the advertising firm based in Sweden with an outpost in Manhattan. In New York the staff have hosted workshops meant to encourage individual advertising pros or even entire agencies to embrace the changes digital is bringing to their industry. The people who attend these workshops tend to be in their mid- to late-30s, yet they already feel the pressures of obsolescence as technology races forward: “Most of the men and women here — average age: 38 — have worked at agencies for more than a decade. Such tenure used to be considered an asset, but these days it’s more of a liability. They’re all well aware that coding is now prized over copywriting and that a résumé that includes Xbox and Google is more desirable than one featuring stints at BBDO or Grey.”
Ms. Sacks’s article outlines some of the history of that first advertising revolution, which created specialized teams of copywriters, photographers, and illustrators to use their independent skills under the guidance of an art director and the client. But “[o]ver the past few years, because of a combination of Internet disintermediation, recession, and corporate blindness, the assembly line has been obliterated — economically, organizationally, and culturally.”
Clients have begun to see the possibility that digital/social media can allow messaging that can target individuals, not just demographic groups. They have grown skeptical that traditional agencies can master such detail, though they are not sure exactly where to turn. Moreover, images and commercials that used to require tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and human-hours are now done on high-end cameras bought from a chain store and prepped by one or two people on a computer.
What people on both sides of the digital divide seem to accept is that “the carnage is going to be awesome!” That is, the advertising sector has become a bloated and stratified place with veritable aristocracies of centralized influence – but technologies and the young people who wield them will blow apart that world, atomize its bureaus, and open up its opportunities for mobility (personal, economic, and communications). Moreover, the atomization will mean big ideas (Ms. Sacks uses the MasterCard commercial series “Priceless” as an example) will not be expected by the client (who is looking to target individuals anyway), nor can the agency demand high fees to get that big idea. Will we see a fall in creative quality? Or will creative groups receive smaller gross checks, but keep more of the profit as they shed the hierarchies and departments that made up the world of the Mad Men?
And as we have pointed out in previous articles this week, you need not be part of an advertising agency to ask the hard questions that the article poses. How is your community organization or care-giving group keeping abreast with the changes that have come and continue to come for communications? For outreach? For building relationships? Are you able to take advantage of the digital revolution just as, has done? “Kraft, for instance, has assembled a growing Rolodex of 70 new specialist partners. This isn’t some fringe brand – it’s Kraft, the country’s largest food marketer, which spends some $1.6 billion on marketing every year. The company is so open to new thinking that it recently hired a startup called to develop a new campaign for the relaunch of its Athenos Hummus.” Alright, maybe your nonprofit or mission-driven business is not of that scale (yet!), but the idea is what is pertinent: challenge yourself to think ahead, and to talk about future outreach opportunities today.
By internet standards, it is a. It is also available in the latest issue (issue 115) of Fast Company. But it is well worth the read over the weekend. And for next week you can look forward to an enlightening interview with Kristen Cambell, Director of New Media at the , as part of our ongoing Perspectives series. We end this synopsis with the very question Ms. Sacks poses to her readers so they may tweet their responses: “The future of advertising is… ?”