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Apparently there’s a roaring interest in a model for the advertising agency of the future. My aim for this post is to address some of the ideas put forth by others, weigh the usefulness of today’s agency objectively, and make a bit of a prediction myself. There’s little fun in making bold predictions about the future without a debate – so dig in and offer up a point of view in the comments, if you please.
Who says the future needs an agency, anyway? Advertising agency of the future sounds a bit like horse drawn carriage of the future. I’m not saying for certain that there won’t be agencies in the future, only that the future doesn’t necessarily need agencies. Just like the future doesn’t need printed news but it needs journalism; the future needs commercial communications, but who creates them, the agency or the brand or someone else, is unwritten.
And though the future of the agency is unwritten, I have real doubts that agencies will survive or should survive:
# Agencies don’t value strategy. Agencies should quit blaming the brand for not paying for thinking. Your ability to court good clients who value strategic thinking is a measure of your own strategic ability. So when brands won’t pay for strategy, agencies gladly overcharge for the execution – which more often than not nets an expensive bad idea. Good luck getting the brand to pay for that the fifth time around.
# The big agencies only pay lip service to digital. They hire and knight smart digital thinkers who ultimately have no authority, no real work, and contempt directed at them from the rest of the organization. It’s no surprise why they don’t stick around. The big boys also farm out to small digital shops that undervalue themselves and lose credit for the work. By the by, almost no superbowl ad last night drove to a URL (GoDaddy has been doing this for years and no one else has caught on) and no brand I saw used their Adwords in an interesting way (even though people were sure to hit search).
Agencies can’t keep the quality talent they need. See the last bullet point.
The digital agencies are full of tacticians. I feel a bit like Bill Bernbach must have when he wrote his letter to Grey – the explosion of digital channels has created a need for people with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of how to implement specific tactics on digital platforms but they rarely have any creative ability or understanding of culture, for that matter. And what does that generate? Well, as Bill put it, “A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.” Yup, that’s it.