Even Death is bored.
First JWT closes down its 100-year old operation in Chicago, and then the much-beleaguered, much-named Enfatico is swept under the WPP rug. And the drumbeats get louder: Advertising is dead. TV is dead. Newspapers are dead. Long live the…
The what? The continuous reporting of death and destruction in Ad Land was inevitable and necessary but isn’t it part of a bigger story, a story that’s ready for part II…or even part III?
Honestly, the beginning of the End started 20 years ago, give or take, with the phenomenon of holding companies taking over the advertising landscape. A decade later the Internet arrived and, while at first aiding and abetting Ad Land, it quickly took on it’s own agenda, sucking advertising revenue from older media and, more crucially, changing how consumers and content relate to one another.
So here we are. In my last post I wrote with optimism about the future of marketing services. If big agencies are truly unified (not posing or fronting) they will prevail. Specialty shops always have a place. But I’m missing a piece, one that is critical.
Who among us will emerge from the chaos poised to reinvent? As current leadership (myself included) goes about playing the cards we have (some far better than others), where are the game changers?
Does marketing have a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods? Is marketing even the right word? Granted, unlike sports (where the game hardly changes at all) our world has been turned upside down. But still, we are only transitioning. In order for the ad game to be reinvented we need inventers.
Agencies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky and clients like Apple show us the potential for our industry. They think different and it shows. Alex and Steve are visionaries. My opinion, haters of CP&B are mostly ignorant, jealous or both. This agency is the modern version of Doyle Dane Bernbach. I’m sorry if that’s a hard pill to swallow. In his day, Bill took a lot of shit too. Apple needs no explanation or defense. So strong is their karma it altered not only technology and marketing, it changed the world.
So who’s next and what’s next? Instead of everyone criticizing the old models and their fat cat leaders, why aren’t we seeing any new gurus and game changers? Picking on Martin Sorrel and Howard Draft is so last year. Harping on the death of everything is equally laborious. If you want the definitive text on what went wrong and who’s to blame read The Ubiquitous Persuaders by George Parker.
It’s not a war between advertising and digital. Or direct marketing versus general. They are ALL important. And they are all in trouble. Enough said.
I’m declaring that part of the revolution over. Who among us is capable of delivering the new model for another fifty years, or even twenty? And yes, I’m talking to all the sharp shooters hiding within their cubes or trolling the Internet looking for targets. Put down your water pistols and figure this shit out.
From the ashes, new growth.
I had a long conversation with the AdAge reporter who first broke the disheartening story about JWT’s demise. Jeremy Mullman wasn’t prodding about that agency; he’d already done his homework there. He told that sad tale. Instead he was considering the future of marketing services in Chicago. Funny, I told him, I’ve been doing much the same thing.
Clearly JWT’s passing begs many questions but, contrary to majority opinion, not all of them are bleak or discouraging. Frankly, I told Jeremy, there’s a lot to look forward to.
Yes, over the last few years, it was as if a fire had burned through the corridors of Ad Land. Few in Chicago were exempted from its fury. Yet from these ashes might we see new growth, perhaps healthier and better prepared for the 21st century?
I have ample reason to be hopeful.
In 2004, Euro Tathum Partners found itself in the same sorry shape as JWT. The advertising agency had been decimated by client defections and staff eliminations. Morale was low. An unhealthy fear pervaded the air. The local press named Euro a corpse and called for its burial.
Yet, in Euro’s case, the people, places and things were reassembled in such a way as to put it in good stead. It serves no purpose to tell that story here. You readers haven’t an appetite for braggadocio! Suffice it to say, Euro RSCG is viable and strong. For this we are a little proud and a lot grateful.
And we are not alone. Elsewhere, there is new growth or sustained growth. I urged Mullman to look for it, report it, and even herald it. For Chicago agencies, (ours included) need this support. Nourishment comes from many sources, including the trade press.
If big agencies put forth an honest commitment to ALL the marketing services (Digital, Direct, Promotion, Data and yes, even Advertising), they will do better than merely survive. Clients want and need a unified approach and, done properly, they will gladly pay for it.
Specialists have their place as well. As Mullman correctly pointed out, Chicago’s own Starcom leads all comers in media. In a recent column, Alex Bogusky sang the praises of small advertising boutiques, rightly extolling them for their creative prowess.
Paying lip service to one or, worse yet, fronting another causes decay and, as we have now seen, death. In George Parker’s remarkably intellectual book, The Ubiquitous Persuaders he uncovers these frauds and makes a harrowing case for new and improved models…or else. I urge you to read it.
And so, having arrived at a new and improved model, agencies (big or small) must make a genuine commitment to it. Those that do will prosper. These entities are the future of our industry –not just in Chicago but everywhere.
Mullman with AdAge is working on an extensive story about the future of advertising (or whatever were calling it) in Chicago. The piece may run as soon as Monday. In the midst of it all, I sometimes miss the obvious. Likely he won’t. So I look forward to his view. I also look forward to a better tomorrow. Easter is here and with it the story of resurrection. Likewise, spring brings new growth. Pray our great city finds evidence of both. I am confident it will.