Robert Clark
Oct 29, 2015

Digital adaptation: Truffle Pig and other troubling signs for traditional agencies

The relentless rise of social media and the proliferation of platforms is shifting the templates of traditional media, and agencies too.

Agency model: Evolving as marketing is no longer driven by broadcast and television
Agency model: Evolving as marketing is no longer driven by broadcast and television

Last month, News Corp acquired Unruly, a London-based video ad tech firm  whose software has the ability to predict virality of videos and to offer programmatic targeting and branding within the media player. Those offer obvious advantages to a big media company. 

News Corp CEO Robert Thomson said Unruly would provide “insight into how people read, watch, buy and sell in the digital era.”

In May, Dentsu-Aegis picked up content marketing agency John Brown Media to build out the group’s content capabilities.  Within the group it is working closely with iProspect, the digital performance agency.

The most high-profile deal is probably the launch of Truffle Pig, a venture between the hugely popular online tabloid DailyMail, emerging social platform Snapchat and WPP. 

Truffle Pig can “find the rare and tasty,” says DailyMail North America boss Jon Steinberg. “With the need for story-driven marketing on our sites and those of other media companies, and new ad formats like Snapchat, brands need Truffle Pig.” 

The new agency will use Snapchat, and its millennials-targeted site Elite Daily as test beds for story-driven marketing ideas. 

The big underlying trend here is the emergence of social media platforms as major publishers, which in turn is thrusting content marketing into the spotlight. 

The role of Snapchat, which will be carrying video from Truffle Pig, is illustrative of the changing environment. It offers a distinctive experience, where content is just seen or heard once (ironically, similar to ‘old media’). But because of that it gains the viewer’s full attention and demands that advertisers make short and impactful content. 

Of course the big player here is Facebook, which is now a major publisher itself. It has struck a series of deals with media brands, such as one with The New York Times and others in which they can post their content directly to Facebook’s iOS app. The media companies keep 100 per cent of the revenue for ads they’ve sold themselves, and 70 per cent if through the Facebook ad network.

So if consumers and brands are moving to social media, there’s no surprise that agencies are looking for ways to be effective in that channel.

Don Anderson, APAC regional managing director for social media specialist We Are Social, points out that Singaporeans spend two and a half hours a day on average on social media. In the Philippines, the figure is two times higher. “That’s essentially your pipeline.”

Marketing is no longer about broadcast, Anderson said. “It’s about relationships and it’s much more of a conversation. The sudden shift to a more interactive approach relies on content marketing.”

The result is traditional agencies are somewhat under siege. They might be accustomed to spending spend two to three months on a TVC, and relying on a broadcast approach and methodology.  

“Now they’re going to have to move faster—or have strategic partners.”

Vaasu Gavarasana, co-founder of the Asia Content Marketing Association (ACMA), thinks the traditional agencies are trapped in their current revenue models. 

“I don’t see them catching up for a whole bunch of reasons, but primarily because of a lack of visionary leadership. There are a lot of startups coming into play who will eventually be leaders.”

He thinks the WPP-Snapchat-DailyMail partnership is a good idea. But he notes that the challenge for WPP will be to integrate it into its agencies in a multi-disciplinary group, Team Ford-style.

“Then again, how many Team Fords are there? How many ‘Team Fords’ have Publicis and IPG created?” 

He believes that a tipping point in Asia will be when total digital take-up reaches 50 per cent. 

“The moment it tips over the digital — maybe five years from now … then I think all the traditional advertising agencies are going to be in trouble. It’s not like they’re not in trouble already. They’re not making money on the current model.”

Giles Henderson, director of media & channels for VML Qais Singapore, agrees that new platforms are driving change but doesn’t see the recent spate of mergers and partnerships as a departure. 

It’s not new for agencies to partner with media companies. They regularly do that in deals around ad dollars. Nor is it unusual for the partners to talk up the deal — “it gives their clients awareness of what they’re doing.”

He also thinks that “a lot of buzzwords” are causing distraction. ‘Native advertising’ used to be called advertorial, for example. 

But the big change is in “the sheer volume of channels that are available, the types of content and the technology that sits behind it — those are what is different from a few years ago.”

Our View: Deals like this are a win for all partners; creating impactful content is key to competing against new-age media channels.


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