The Future of the Advertising Agency
Aditya Kanthy, National Planning Head, DDB Mudra;
Amit Kekre, National Planning Head, DDB Mudra
Edited by Juie Shah, MEDILL IMC CLASS OF 2015
Published on 10/21/2015
As historians say, often the past holds the answers to the future. So how about we start a conversation about the future of the agency by looking back. It may help separate the hype from the substance on the matter of our purported doom.
Our business has an unhealthy and misguided obsession with its own mortality. How many headlines have we read about the death, in no particular order, of the television spot, copywriters, advertising, creativity, brand, account management, strategic planning and the advertising agency? The fact is that our business has survived change in the past — from the emergence of television to the rise of marketing departments, from the power of procurement to the digital revolution. Businesses recognize that what we do works and that the brands we create offer one of the few enduring sources of profitable growth.
This sanity check is important because we’re talking constantly of how we must completely change lest we become redundant as this big-bad-scary-new digital revolution takes over. In doing so, we’re in danger of missing the woods for the trees and undermining the very talents that make us indispensible to our clients. We must not lose focus on doing the fundamental things that only we can do really well and have kept us relevant.
Why We Count: Creativity is Good Business
No one gets emotions and creativity and what it does for businesses and brands like we do. That will never go out of style. In fact, if anything, there is now more evidence than ever before that agencies drive business growth disproportionately.
Les Binet and Peter Field’s analysis of some of the most effective advertising campaigns in the world suggests that the pure emotion of a drumming gorilla (Cadbury) or a man on a horse (Old Spice) deliver superior results to those that bet purely on logic and reason. This is true even in categories deemed extremely rational (like retail), where department store John Lewis has seen extraordinary success with highly emotional campaigns.
Advertisers tell powerful and moving stories. The human experience (and increasingly, neuroscience) suggests that people deal with complexity by making meaning of the world through stories: that human beings are and will continue to be creatures of the crowd and there’s nothing quite like powerful shared emotional experiences and stories to move us to buy. That’s why brands work.
It’s fashionable to talk about brands being different things to different people or changing constantly in real time. But when that comes in the way of forming powerful memories, it impedes sales. Just because everything can happen in real time, doesn’t mean it must. While media may be fragmenting, brands must not.
Media complexity is a boon. It means we’re the only ones with the ability to do the big picture thinking and to orchestrate how the story and customer journey unfolds consistently. We get what it means to be on-brand. That is why consistent long-term partnerships between brand owners and specialists in brand building can deliver sustained and profitable growth. Our best version of ourselves is not as project managers: it is as brand and business builders.
The heart of our offering is creative people who craft tales of and for humanity and harness technology to tell those stories. In doing so, we build profitable brands and enduring businesses.
Change We Must: Back to the Future
Needless to say, a celebration of our strengths and a return to our roots in no way suggest a refusal to accept the need to change.
Change we must, but with the clear-headed view to protect and build on what makes advertisers valuable to business. This is rather different from the current conversation of change, which privileges the appearance of being future ready with a selection of digital-data-technology buzzwords.
Here are some things advertising agencies should be focused on:
- We still don’t have a theory of how what we do impacts businesses and brands. And if we do, we haven’t done enough to inspire real belief in it both within the industry and among our clients. We need more conversations around effectiveness.
- We need a clear definition of what business we are in. And more importantly, what businesses we aren’t/shouldn’t be in.
- We need to think about how we’re getting paid and what our product is. Do we link our value to producing ads or to the thinking and art that went into it or what that advertisement promises to do/actually does for business?
- We need to think about the investments we’re making in talent, knowledge, data, technology and R&D if an understanding of consumers, creativity, culture and media is the source of our value.
- We’re good at creating cultures where top creative minds and business strategists can work together to solve problems, but have we done enough to get the best young talent excited about this?
- We need working models of managing the balance between specialization and big picture thinking. Do we bring media/channel planning back into the advertising agency, for instance? We need to put all of our best strategic and creative minds across disciplines back together at the heart of the brand team while we execute and tell our stories through specialists. Brands must not lose their edge as they communicate and engage across an increasingly complex media web — more frequently and with less control.
What all of this means is that while we continue to build expert specialized knowledge, our biggest opportunity and our most valuable contribution to our clients in the future may well be in putting all of those pieces together to help them drive sustainable profitable growth.
In a strangely exciting way, the advertising agency of the future may be built on the good old brand building foundations of the advertising agency of the past. [END]