Here’s the irony: media usage has never been higher. People now spend a whopping 11 hours with media every single day¹. Advertising should work, at least with those numbers, right? But it doesn’t. In many ways, we’ve reached “peak disillusionment”. According to the Edelman Trust barometer, 2018 marks the first year that media has become the least-trusted institution in that study’s eighteen-year history.
And why is that? Well, at least some of the fault lies with advertising agencies. Yes, us.
Many have observed ad agencies are mired in old models and are slow to change. Why does creative thinking, in some cases, still start with a TV ad? Why do media agencies work with buying demographics that haven’t made sense in a decade? Why do agencies even need to be told they must show their ROI (and where the actual money is being spent)?
Advertising is at risk of a bigger reinvention than ride-hailing, hotel booking, or grocery shopping. Remember, none mourned Blockbuster when it was replaced by Netflix.
And why are we at this crossroads? It’s because many agencies have forgotten that the tension that comes from change—social, economic, emotional—is the driving force behind our business and great work. Once you stop changing and being thrilled and interested in change, you stagnate. And you get replaced.
When did Change become something agencies fear?
You could point to the FAANGs of this world as the culprit, or the growing pressures from client procurement. But the awkward and uncomfortable truth is that we as an industry haven’t truly confronted the fact that consumers—no, make that people—don’t want to be advertised to anymore, and have the means and will to block advertising out of their lives.
Clients can smell the lack of confidence. They have tightened fees, demanded transparency, shifting to project basis rather than roster. Most concerningly, they’re looking to different models to address their needs: cue the rise of the hybrid consultancy-as-agency, or the creation of in-house agencies.
The “other” uncomfortable truth is that marketers are just as confounded by the speed of change as agencies. They’re beset by operational challenges, market saturation, a dearth of talent, and most importantly, stagnating growth. Their categories are just as vulnerable to reinvention.
In the midst of all this change, agencies and clients alike are searching for a strong point of view.
Clients are thirsting for an informed opinion about what to do next. It’s the reason why creative personalities like Bob Greenberg and Alex Bogusky still carry so much weight. They have strong opinions—the lifeblood of our industry. Or look at Nike’s recent work with Colin Kaepernick—love it, hate it, it’s sparking conversations. You have to put your finger on the tension point and have a POV to stand out, to evolve, to survive.