Ok I got really bad at this. The last chapter I wrote was in March. March, for f’s sake. It’s just that I’m really good at reading tons of things that make me think “oh I should write this about that” and then move on to reading the next thing and forget all about that. Plus the laziness. Which is a fantastic excuse, every time. Oh and I also spend an unreasonable amount of time shuffling around my Arduino and Little Bits chunks without succeeding in making something significant out of it - because we’re all really cool and we like to say “make things not slides” but then doing things is bloody difficult. Anyway.
9.1 the exit plan
An ex-colleague just recently posted a Forbes' piece whose title Do Advertising Agencies Need An Exit Strategy seemed intriguing enough - because let's face it, to a certain extent we do. But the more I dwelt into it the more I found it confusing. The good thing was that it pulled me out of my internet-induced torpor. The bad thing is that it’s making me write - again - about advertising, which is something I’d rather not do.
The whole point of the article seems to be how advertising agencies have lost the plot. And it might be true. But the reasons Mr. Patrick Hanlon brings to sustain this don’t add up. And it’s worth looking at why these reasons don’t add up in order to understand which plot the Ad Agencies have lost.
One of the first evidences is an AdAge article where P&G CEO claims how
this year, P&G reduced its agency roster by 40% and agency spending by $300 million citing unproductive agency and production costs. And we’re getting a heck of a lot more out of our digital, mobile, search and social programs.
Now that might be true for sure, but the fact that P&G also sold 12 Billion Dollars wort of beauty brands - and that’s just the latest wave of portfolio decluttering - should also be added. P&G’s desire for effectiveness seems to be not only a quest for digital excellence, but a procedural re-organisation for a company who grew so big and spread, it became too complex to control. The 40% cut of agency roster was aimed mostly at consolidation. Firms like Leo Burnett, Saatchi or Grey still play a major role in the jobs allocation (disclosure: I worked on a P&G brand for the past two years so I have a bit of insight).
Another point seems to be the shift from traditional media spending to channels like mobile or digital (which Mr. Hanlon brings up in several moments in the piece). My issue here is how most of the article focuses on media spending, as if that was the core of an ad agency business. We can get into a debate about how big agencies lost traction in the idea department, but that’s another matter, and it’s hard to deny that an agency core product is the idea.
Going back to the P&G example, there is another point to be made: yes, they are increasing the spending on digital, but they are doing so for visibility reasons, forced - for example - by changes in Facebook’s algorithm. It’s a use of digital with a TV GRP mentality.
It’s just a budget shift, not a cultural one, and proof of how traditional the use of digital is, is the fact that no P&G brand is among the 50 most online influential brands. To me this is a bit the kernel of the question: the importance of digital cannot be demonstrated only by spending growth, it should be linked also to the capability of a brand to leverage that space to gain cultural traction.
The third point is about the micro-moments he talks about:
Today, that consumer journey has collapsed from days to minutes. Micro-moments are contextual. They are inflection points when consumers think of you, use you, buy you.
My problem here is this kind of “aggregated thinking”. The need for a new milk frother might drive the exemplified behaviour. The need for a new car, a new laptop, a new intercontinental trip might drive different behaviours. It’s easy to be casual in buying something that costs only a few quids. The biggest mistake is thinking that behaviour replicates everywhere.
The last point is about consumption:
84% of Millennials neither like nor trust advertising. More than half say they’re more likely to watch a video on YouTube than on traditional TV. Over half assume cleaning and beauty ads are Photoshopped. In the age of authenticity and values, veracity counts.
Again, I beg to differ. The reason why people - and not just millennials - watch a video on YouTube is accessibility. The fact that they prefer that video to a commercial might be as well because most commercials are simply utterly boring. If veracity was the evaluation criteria, documentaries would be blockbusters, not The Avengers or Game Of Thrones.
9.2 the technology wall
One thing though I do agree with Mr. Hanlon on. The digital divide is seemingly very much here. And I’m not talking in terms of access to a certain amount of bandwidth or technology availability. The digital divide is the capability of thinking technology (and I use this term in a more functional senes than the generic digital).
Most of the big organisation tend to be process-driven more then they are result-oriented: technology has a pace of evolution that too often does not allow for processes to consolidate and this throws off completely the whole organisation. A true innovation culture based on exploration and prototyping tend to be quite fluid and shape-shifting. And that clashes massively with the rigid grids of process.
There seems to be a technology wall that keeps marketing and product innovation separated: the companies who succeed in the digital space are those who manage to tear down this wall, even just occasionally, to come up with product that solve needs. Something that seems trivial, but got seemingly a bit lost in the race for marketing departments - and not only advertising agencies - to stay relevant.