Looking back over the last 10 years is a bit like surveying a battlefield. There is wreckage everywhere, of companies that have collapsed and jobs that have been lost and which will never return.
This is not just a conflict between traditional and newer ways of doing things but also a struggle between Baby Boomers and Gen Y.
For a quarter of a century, Baby Boomers, born in the immediate aftermath of World War II, have had a vice-like grip on business and most other social institutions and they are extremely reluctant to let go of the sources of their wealth and influence.
But Gen Y are digital natives. They have been changing the world without the old guard really noticing until recently.
The frog has just begun to understand that it is in very hot water.
Just consider some of the ideas that are less than 10 years old and which have already turned advertising on its head.
iTunes was created in 2001.
3G mobile phones were launched the same year.
Google floated in 2004.
Facebook launched in 2004 but only to Harvard students.
YouTube was founded in 2005.
Twitter did not exist until 2006.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is 26.
Chad Hurley of YouTube is 33.
These are people who have made their ideas freely available.
By contrast, Rupert Murdoch is 79. He has just put up a paywall around two of his newspaper titles, The Times in the UK and The Wall Street Journal in the USA. Every other mass media company is watching with bated breath to see what happens.
Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post (2005), has recently been called a “parasite, living off the journalism of others”. To which she retorted, “Once again, some in the old media have decided that the best way to save, if not journalism, at least themselves, is by pointing fingers and calling names.”
You can see the same tensions between old and new in Adland.
Most of our clients’ businesses changed radically two, even three times, between 1945 and 2000 as technology and globalisation impacted on them.
Ford, for example, moved from being a car company to a bank. The financial products they offer make it possible for more people to lease or purchase the cars they also happen to make. Incidentally, and if you are looking for further examples of almost unbelievable change, since 2002, this American company has been assembling Mondeos in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Advertising, though, has remained largely unaltered. Until now.
The creative director of a large agency was, in essence, the editor. He (and in 98% of all instances it was a man) made the decisions about what was and what was not fit to appear in broadcast media. When I worked for the legendary John Webster at BMP in London, he approved the final edit of a TV commercial and it would never have occurred to a client to query his decision.
Now, creative direction is provided by any number of brand managers and marketing folk. At every creative presentation there are at least half a dozen people in the room with the licence to criticise and dismember the idea. Seldom is there someone present with both the authority and the intelligence to say yes.
Old-time creative directors offer parallels with medicine. You would never pick an argument with your doctor, they say. You don’t query the course of treatment prescribed or demand a different brand of pharmaceutical the way clients nitpick at ideas and veto their agencies’ choice of photographer or production company.
Well, as a matter of fact, wikification is coming to medicine. There are already many sites where you can exchange information, learn about alternative therapies and chart your own course through illness.
‘The doctor’ as a concept is as paternalistic and as patronising as ‘the creative director’, Gen Y will tell you.
Collaboration is not something advertising creatives have been very good at doing. Many campaigns are not as integrated as they might be because the different agencies find it so hard to sit at the same table.
Sir Martin Sorrell called this behaviour “kiss and punch”.
Be pleasant in front of the client, deceitful and difficult after the meeting.
Increasingly, though, campaigns are being put together the way movies get made. Hardly anyone works for the production company. Every single little part of the job is subcontracted out.
As a result, freelancers have learned to be flexible, collaborative and to be generalists as well as specialists. This adaptability is now being learned within agencies. But no one knows yet what the best model will be.
Anomaly in New York and London sells ideas, irrespective of media.
3Sixty in Bristol is a cross between McKinsey’s and AKQA with some IBM consulting thrown in.
19 Management builds brands through entertainment properties it has created such as Pop Idol.
Zappos, the shoe company, do the whole thing in-house. No agency, no messages, just 50 people using Twitter to start and maintain conversations around the world about footwear.
By the way, they have done it very successfully too, building a business that went from start-up to fetching $1.2 billion when it was acquired by Amazon in 10 years.
That’s an idea that didn’t exist 10 years ago, the idea of dialogue with your customers.
Seth Godin published Permission Marketing in late 1999 but even today there are many marketers who still believe in the old P&G model of putting a message in front of people and relentlessly repeating it until consumers give in and buy your product.
P&G themselves are not among them.
Their (recently retired) CEO, A.G. Lafley urged his marketers to “learn to let go”, because, he observed, “the more in control we are, the more out of touch we become.”
Therein lies the fundamental dilemma for marketers today, the issue of control. It suits the CMO of a big company to have big ideas because, heck, he has a big job. Yet Nike, a global superbrand if ever there was one, now invests only in small ideas. Local ideas.
Integration has been the big buzzword of late, yet here is a brand wilfully disintegrating.
One has to feel sorry for the organisers of the Cannes Advertising Festival. They only created their Titanium/Integrated category in 2005 and already it looks as if it is becoming redundant.
But then, who would have thought that the Direct Lions would become the most interesting awards won at the show? Direct only got recognition at Cannes in 2002 and for a couple of years direct marketing agencies entered mailshots and brochures. Now creative behemoths like BBDO, New York; Abbott Mead Vickers; BBDO London; and Saatchi & Saatchi, London, enter fabulously crafted video-based campaigns which run online and get people clicking measurably and thus directly.
Indeed, Abbott Mead Vickers, Cannes TV Agency of the Year in the past was Direct Agency of the Year in 2010.
The arrival of the iPad with, in its wake, a host of tablet competitors, is going to bring further radical change to how brands communicate and where and to how agencies create ideas and with whom.
As sure as an egg is an egg, there will be further convergence between publishing, music, gaming, entertainment and advertising but that is the subject for a further piece.
As the ancient Chinese curse puts it, “May you live in interesting times.” Truly we are cursed.
Patrick Collister is Editor, Directory magazine. He is former Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather. firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in the November-December 2010 issue of