Despite the advertising industry being a very creative one it is also a conservative one. The cause is the role ad agencies play, a service provider to clients hence they tend to be behind the curve on developments within the client community who in turn tend to behind the curve on macro developments in technology, society, economics, etc.
This reality is very evident today with the “de-coupling” of ideas from implementation; a trend which is bound to have a massive impact on the structure of the industry in the near future. Further it will force ad agency management to think very carefully about their core deliverable to clients and what to ignore/jettison non-core activities.
The writing on the wall is crystal clear if one steps back a little and thinks tomorrow rather than today. There are several reasons worthy of careful consideration.
Firstly the difference between ideas, execution and implementation. The best ad agencies have real creative talent bursting at the seams, and the reason talented people join good ad agencies is to find an outlet for their creative muscle. I can’t see that changing too much over time. However there is a very clear distinction between execution and implementation. A good ad agency will want to polish and hone the execution but may not be too fussed about implementation because it shifts in to a different place driven by tasks that tend to be more mechanical.
Second the evolution of implementation. In the last century the implementation bit of the process focused on print and TV, some radio, mainly domestically. Today we have multiple channels and platforms, creative work running internationally, and thanks to the internet the ability to go global in the click of a mouse. Implementation has become massively complex in many cases and ad agencies just don’t have the resource, know-how and technology to claim an ability to handle the job in hand. Therefore the implementation side of things is going elsewhere. This truth will simply more and more become the norm.
Thirdly the age of the nerd. The internet has opened up a whole new sector in the advertising world and is basically a different side of the brain to conventional advertising. Running a colour dps in the Sunday Times colour supplement was a fairly simple task to understand; provide finished artwork to Wapping on time and bingo your lovely ad appeared on the day booked. Who has tried getting a working website up and running recently? A PhD in computer science is necessary to even understand what the funny chap in the dark room is talking about. To make matters worse these nerdy types have also invented a glossary of terms that are meaningless to normal people. (Also so many people trot out the new language and I can’t work out if it’s bullshit or not.)
This is the equivalent of opening the bonnet on your Porsche 911 and staring at the engine mass; just close it again and take it to the nearest Porsche dealer.
This leads to the nerdy types having four fours in a game of poker, it can’t be beaten. They know which wire connects the widget to the gromit.
No conventional, creatively strong ad agency is going to embrace this space because it isn’t at the ideas end of the spectrum, it’s at the wiring and plumbing end which has become very technical, very specialised and literally a new world. It also requires huge capital investment to equip the operation capable of delivering content globally in different languages to a range of media channels in differing formats. Ad agencies invest in human talent, the production partners invest in capital equipment.
This is what is driving the ‘de-coupling’ of ideas from implementation. The growth of businesses dedicated to implementation is a correlation with the growth in technology. Companies such as TAG, Zone, Splash and Hogarth are experiencing a growth in their business as they take over more and more of the implementation. A big client such as Nationwide can appoint a hot shop as they have done with 18 Feet & Rising for the strategy and creative content (and by the way I think there TV work is some of the best in this category) and use one of the ‘production’ agencies to implement the volume work. Makes sense for all parties and is all about horses for courses.
Where this really begins to make huge sense is with multi-national brands. In the old days their ad agency would open an office in each of the countries the brand was operating in. All of the creative work would be executed and implemented locally but this is often no longer required. It can all be done from a building in Clerkenwell or Soho. The upsides are very compelling; consistency, reduced costs, control, asset libraries, etc.
After polishing my crystal ball I predict in, say, five years time ad agencies will have shrunk in size as they focus on their core skill base and the ‘production’ agencies will grow as they absorb more and more of the implementation. It is the way the world is going. Interesting from a career point of view for a lot of people. This might sound dramatic but just think about how media has changed in the same way. The separation of media from creative began slowly in the 1980’s, a little over 30 years ago and it didn’t move in to the mega groupings until the late ’90’s, now look at it; massive groups with immense firepower and handling the bulk of the cash in advertising.
If I was thinking of starting a new ad agency today I would make sure it focused on ideas, staffed accordingly and partner a major, all singing all dancing production agency.