If the past two decades of advertising were a party, ad agencies would be waking up wearing lampshades with “cookie monster” in Sharpie on their foreheads.
It’s been a blast, but the shindig had to end sometime. As digital advertising ballooned into a $33 billion industry, advertising tools and consumers became infinitely more complex while ad agencies – many of whom better relate to Ogilvy and Mad Men than to AdWords and SEM – stayed the same. But now, agencies must adapt or die with the music.
The old agency relationship is doomed.
Like a Brooklyn coffeehouse, today’s ad agencies are stuck playing old records. They continue to think of consumers in terms of markets rather than individuals, take weeks to turn around creative briefs, and consider themselves the single source of customer truth. But brands, more directly exposed to the daylight of digital change, know that they must move with greater agility.
That’s because today’s consumers require more finesse to capture. They’ve responded to mountains of cheap digital ads by evolving into banner-blind, ad-blocking, channel-hopping tyrants. They’ll accept no less than being treated as individuals no matter where they pop up, and only deign to see things that matter to them.
In this world, the traditional, elitist, slow-moving brand-agency relationship is strained to its breaking point. Research firm Creativebrief reports that 68% of agencies and 72% of brands believe that “agency structures, processes, and pace of delivery” are out of whack. According to Jennelle Tilling, CMO of KFC, “brands cannot wait six weeks for an idea,” adding that, “our brands need to tell stories every day.”
But it’s not just agencies who are failing: Brands are struggling to communicate with their customers too.
Power to the party people.
What do consumers want? To be treated like people. The explosion of digital channels and choice over the past two decades led brands, who felt like they had to be everything everywhere to everyone, to lean on agencies. Agencies in turn got drunk on the power they appeared to wield in predicting consumer tastes.
Now, by the light of day, it’s clear that neither brands nor agencies know who hosted this awesome, ad-clicking rager. With the sun up and the consumers long gone, both are sheepishly tiptoeing home to reinvent themselves.
For some marketers, the answer is to become more people-based through reorganization. According to AdAge, Publicis Media recently launched a new offering called Publicis Spine aimed at better using data to target people as individuals. “It has to do with putting clients at the center of solutions,” says Publicis Media CEO Steve King, who dedicated more than 3,500 engineers, data scientists, analysts, and tech leaders to the operation, which aims to establish a unique, cross-channel consumer ID.
“Most of the first wave of digital advertising has been intrusive and unwarranted with things like banner and pre- and post-roll,” says King. Spine will allow Publicis to serve up ads that consumers actually like.
And Publicis is not alone. According to DMN, consultancies and agencies around the world from Accenture to Isobar and Merkle have all recently piped up with similar initiatives. New demands, the article says, are “creating a new breed of agency; the kind of agency that can go beyond designing campaigns to helping brands with change management, redesigning the organization around customer engagement.”
Will all agencies wake up from their bender equally energized? Time will tell. But what is clear is that much will have to change before anyone on either the brand or agency side throws another party.