Mike Fromowitz
Dec 7, 2012

Agencies of the Future, or Flavour of the month?

There are so many articles and blogs written about the "Agency of the Future". Agencies believe they need to re-invent themselves to stay relevant. I continue to believe the best thing for ad ...

Agencies of the Future, or Flavour of the month?

There are so many articles and blogs written about the "Agency of the Future". Agencies believe they need to re-invent themselves to stay relevant. I continue to believe the best thing for ad agencies to do is not to be so concerned about media (new and old), but to simply create work that people actually choose to engage with. All this talk about technology, new digital media, traditional vs digital... does it really matter? Or is it the “right message” that really counts?

I came across these extracts from George Parker’s new book, ‘Confessions of a Mad Man.’ (http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Mad-Man-ebook/dp/B005DHYPZQ)

This is what's been said of the man and his book. "One of the few surviving “Mad Men,” George Parker has lived through more than forty profligate, debauched and decadent years in the world’s second oldest profession. This is a guy who has seen it all and done it all. And a great deal of what he has seen and done would make the current TV show; “Mad Men,” look like Sesame Street. Unless Kermit is caught with his pants down banging Miss Piggy on the PBS boardroom table. Ah, the good old days… Sex, drugs, rock & roll and a bit of advertising thrown in for good measure… Names will be named, scandals will be exposed, and no one will escape. It’s all in here. It’s advertising as you always imagined it."

I think the following extracts from his new book are well worth reading.

Part 1:

I try and end each of my books about the world’s second oldest profession with some kind of half-hearted projection of where we might, or might not be, in a few years time. Obviously, this is an exercise in futility, as not a single one of the grotesquely overpaid, and supremely ignorant executives of the various Big Dumb Agency (BDA) and Big Dumb Holding Company (BDHC) even have a clue as to where they will be eating their two hundred dollar lunch tomorrow…

One of the most pathetic aspects of your average BDA is how unoriginal the thinking of most of the senior management who work in them is. This, in spite of their claim that they are dedicated to the creation of truly effective work on their client’s behalf through the implementation of unique methodologies, executed via the skills, insights and talents of their world class staff.

A visit to half a dozen BDA Web sites will quickly make your eyes glaze over as you read about their Global Capabilities – 360 Degree Branding – Media Agnosticism – Total Immersion Maceration – Dynamic DataMetrics – Integrated Communications Services – The Pursuit of Professional Excellence – Single Point Contact and Accountability – The Creation and Maintenance of Brand Value – A Resistance to the Usual – Balancing Left Brain, Right Brain… And so on and so on.

Much more than mere ad agencies

In addition, many will claim to be much more than mere ad agencies. Now, they have seemingly transmogrified into Anthropologists – Psychiatrists – Necromancers – Masters of Feng Shui -Aggressive Attitudinal Amplifiers, and by next week something else equally exotic that merely enables them to continue disseminating bullshit to their increasingly suspicious clients.

Over the years, the nomenclature used by agencies to describe all these miraculous offerings has changed with the advent of new technologies, methods of content distribution, and Einstein-like mathematical measurement tools...

Fortunately for the agencies, while these new tools allow them to gather ever larger and more impressive measurements of impressions, they rarely, if ever give any hard information about how these impressions have translated into sales. Which, in spite of David Ogilvy’s long held conviction that advertising is about selling, merely reinforces my opinion that the vast majority of BDA’s are convinced that advertising is about branding, because when you talk about branding, rather than selling, it’s hard to pin down exactly what all that money they are pissing away on your behalf is actually doing.

Ever since Nero attempted to create the first “Agency of the Future” by breaking down the walls and blowing up the silos of Ancient Rome, numerous other adverati lunatics have repeatedly attempted the same thing with unsurprisingly similar results.

In common with Nero’s efforts, most “Agencies of the Future” quickly become agencies of the past, or, more often than not, degenerate into carbon copies of the agencies they were supposed to replace. Thereby proving that the vast majority of people in advertising, not only inhabit some kind of fucked up parallel universe that has little or no connection to reality, but are forever destined to repeat the mistakes everyone preceding them has committed, in the belief they have not only come up with something new, but actually believe, they have cracked the holy grail of the Big Dumb Agency universe.

Unfortunately, life is no longer like that, as clients are increasingly asking for more accountability, at substantially lower cost than they paid in the past.

“In-house” shops

A few short years ago, WPP pulled off what was billed at the time as the master stroke of the century by creating an agency that would be solely dedicated to the needs of a single, very large, very rich, global client. Dell Computer.

Established in 2008, this agency, luxuriating under the uxorious name of Enfatico, was hailed by the advertising trade press as a revolutionary new concept. In reality, it was nothing of the sort. The idea of an agency totally dedicated to a single client was by no means revolutionary; it’s been around for donkey’s years. Previously, they were usually known as “in-house” shops, and are famous for one thing above anything else; the production of really, really shitty work. And, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Firstly, no creative person in their right mind wants to work on just one account, particularly when it is more often than not, a shitty account. Secondly, if you only have one client, the last thing you want to do is piss them off and lose your job.

Actually, the granddaddy of totally dedicated shops is Lintas, which began in London in 1899 as an in-house agency for

Lever Brothers, a British soap company. Then when Lever Brothers developed into the Anglo-Dutch giant, Unilever, Lintas gained a massive client that would fuel its growth for the rest of the century. With the rock solid foundation of its mainstay Unilever account, and a policy of hiring talented people, Lintas then went on to win numerous other prestigious accounts from multinational clients including Diet Coke, MasterCard, and IBM.

Everything went swimmingly from then on, until 1982, when Interpublic, by far the dumbest of the Big Dumb Holding Company’s swallowed up SSC&B: Lintas, as it had now become, thanks to multiple ill considered and invariably stupid mergers. From then on, primarily because of Interpublic’s financially focused and inept management, it has all been one long trip downhill.

In the years since Lintas was founded, many others have jumped on the bandwagon of creating a totally dedicated agency that would concentrate solely on the service of a single client on a global scale. Virtually all have failed; most of them disastrously, yet this doesn’t seem to have tempered the appetite for BDA’s, and BDHC’s to continue trying.

Part 2:

However, many believed that in 2008, WPP had finally realized the ultimate one client/one agency solution that would make both parties happy and rich. It was not to be.

Sir Martin Sorrell had made Michael Dell an offer he couldn’t refuse. As usual, it had little to do with the quality of the work or the level of service that would be brought to the account. It was all about the money.

In typical bean counter fashion, many spreadsheets and Power Point presentations were created to show that their client Dell that a dedicated agency could serve as a single point of reference for a client that was claimed to have been using 800 agencies globally.

So, “Enfatico” was created. Initially called “Da Vinci,” the name was dropped as being a little too pretentious. Having said that, no one seemed to have a clue what Enfatico meant. A visit to their Web site didn’t provide many clues, although the introductory page did establish one thing… “Building a new global agency required a delicate touch. There were loud noises. Broken rules. Crushed silos. Blown-up preconceptions.” As you can see they shared Nero’s enthusiasm for breaking, crushing and blowing things up, particularly silos. No wonder, the company logo was a giant sledgehammer!

Enfatico immediately hired nearly a thousand employees, working out of fifteen offices scattered around the globe. Within months, Enfatico rolled up its sleeves and got down to work producing its first campaign… For itself! Featuring sledgehammers and wrecking balls, as expected, it focused on the agency’s ability by break, crush and blow shit up. It couldn’t show any of its on-going work for Dell, ‘cos there was no work on-going. In fact, in its two year existence, Enfatico never produced a single global campaign for its solitary client.

All the offices were closed, there were massive lay-offs, and a small skeleton crew was absorbed by WPP roster agency, Y&R, to service the business. Enfatico completely disappeared. It was the biggest, fastest disaster in advertising agency history. When asked why it failed, Sorrell replied: “Because it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. And the two prime movers behind it left Dell.”  Which raises the question that if the agency/client relationship depends on a couple of dodgy people, shouldn’t there have been a lot more mano a mano going on between Martin Sorrell and Michael Dell?

As expected, “Agencies of the future” pop up with endless frequency. Most are based on some new break-through technology or methodology. Some are merely the merger of two long existing sclerotic dinosaurs, which end up creating an even bigger sclerotic, dinosauristic, completely fucked up organization that is completely out of touch with modern marketing and communications mess-o-potamia.

Others emerge out of the primeval ooze, as a result of the gnarly gobbling up, by an aging dinosaur, of a new digital startup, which just happens to be the flavor of the week.  Meanwhile, the dinosaur is left with an empty shell, which it shuts down, then buys another startup.

Crowdsourcing and the Universe

Now, the flavor of the week is “crowdsourcing.” This is based on a very simple principle… The “crowdsourcing” agency throws out a brief to the entire advertising/creative universe. Meaning anyone who is not currently getting free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, or checking out the latest Thai Porn on their neighbors Internet connection, can come up with virtually any ad/jingle/video/whatever, and if your entry should happen to come up as the winner, you get paid enough to eat like a king at McDonalds for a week. The other twenty thousand people, who sent in their pathetic submissions, get… Nothing! The crowdsourcing agency obviously negotiates a fat fee from the client dumb enough to consider this as the right way to go about solving their advertising requirements. The client also undoubtedly gets a substandard piece of work… But, they get it really, really cheap. Which is, after all, a major consideration for many BDC’s.

And just to show that the Adverati never stand still in their on-going quest to reinvent themselves, crowdsourcing has now evolved into “curation.” This is little more than a posher term to describe the aforementioned crowdsourcing. Instead of throwing the brief concerning the new campaign needed for Acme Nose Hair Remover to the seething masses, it goes to a rather more select list of people desperate enough to work for peanuts, if anything. But hey, if you’ve been “curated,” you must be special… Or, stupid!

Like the cockroach, advertising

I will be “gob smacked” to discover how many new ways the existing BDA’s will have come up with to reinvent themselves as the next “Agency of the Future!”

But, never, ever forget… The great thing about the ad biz is that no matter how weird and fucked up it appears to be, like the cockroach, advertising has been around forever. It will continue to be around forever.

 

A final Note:

George Parker is the perpetrator of adscam.typepad.com. Every week he shares his opinions on the advertising world with PSFK.

 

Mike Fromowitz

OCTANE

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