ADstradamus: Agencies of Change

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NOSTALGIA SELLS without trying. It’s the easiest form of time travel with the special ingredient of emotional attachment. So for £2 I picked up a copy of architecture magazine Blueprint with the ominous and attention grabbing headline; RIP: Advertising – Have the ad-men finally had their day?

History repeats. The essence of the article by Sean Pillot de Chenecey is on the back of a recession (sound familiar?) while relating an entirely deserved critique of bland, bloated advertising agency output (still familiar?) akin to a rotund school cafeteria server delivering mechanical dollops of mashed potato into your eyes. There was a noticeable creative dearth in 2003! And well – there still is.

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Digital media has rocked up and changed the whole advertising arena in terms of reach – it’s gone outside of the Colloseum – but I’m not seeing much creative or groundbreaking work. ‘Risk’ is a word that’s used a lot when it comes to campaigns. Just as in Hollywood, ad execs don’t want to risk … anything it seems. Obviously not entirely true but the bigger agencies have been responsible for little innovation. I can’t believe big companies are willing to pay much of anything for some of the crap that I’ve seen in the media. And it’s not even a risk. Especially for anyone with deep pockets. And if you’re paying to have something out there that people are probably going to ignore or fail to recall in a market research survey anyway: keeping it the same isn’t going to work.

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What is striking about the article is that it is entirely predictive of the fact brands have had to connect beyond the brand itself, to show they care about global issues, to communicate wider intentions whether through genuine goodwill or by pressure and the actions of more conscious companies. Dave Nottoli’s statement is golden, reading like Nostradamus. The gaudy brand-in-your-face approach has been scaled back for more refined aesthetics. It’s not so much about wearing a cotton billboard t-shirt with a Fila logo plastered on it. The cynic of course will realise that much of it is about accountability and PR. With the internet a scandal is only a few clicks away.

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Another fact is that the job role of advertising has changed. Quite possibly far more than anyone could have imagined in 2003. So many smaller agencies want all rounders. Agencies are becoming all encompassing entities. The usual devouring of smaller fish by big fish continues. And big data has gone into another dimension of relevance. The single biggest differentiation between the old ad days and now. The enormity of data collected on people is staggeringly big and giant companies like MediaLink are frolicking in your data and mine, a err…data mine, except it’s definitely not yours it’s theirs.

As a creative copywriter and all round writer I’m thankful that the creative process is not replicable by algorithms and robots (I can’t find the TedX video link unfortunately). And in one of those unintended but coincidental delights, the advert next to the last page of the article reads, ‘Long dry spells’. That could easily be the unofficial motto of many creative agencies. And let’s not forget a lot of clients are getting well over par service. This is where the opportunity lies: small agencies can stake their claim in a shifting era where technology is daisy cutting everything in its path — and people will likely travel to Mars.

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