Why traditional ad agencies will bounce back.
It's been fashionable lately to trash traditional ad agencies for being out-of-touch, out-of-the-loop, out-to-lunch, and missing-in-action on all things relevant to our unmistakable digital and "conversational" reality.
Agency bashing is like a sport, and darn it feels good. Finger pointing is a form of catharsis, and a common enemy makes for good targets on the dartboard. I mean, "You loser, you!"
But far from the too-easy conclusion that ad agencies will soon ride into the sunset (aided by the inevitable collapse of the :30 commercial), I predict they're about to experience a reincarnation, renewal, and renaissance. Online video, I submit, is the catalyst and redeemer.
Indeed, the resurgence of online video is the lynchpin for traditional agencies to reassert center stage in creativity, authority, and overall brand leadership -- provided, of course, they play it right, and use their newfound momentum to weave together other pieces of the marketing mix they typically ignore. It's theirs to lose.
Yes, even in this era of age of media fragmentation, consumer-generated media (CGM), MySpace and YouTube, the agencies have the clear right to win and to reassert leadership.
In this era of "experimentation," we often risk losing site of the core fundamentals of brand building: the big "brand idea," reason-to-believe, and of course, emotional bonding. While the Internet provides plenty of expertise and precision around accountability and ROI, our breakthroughs to date owe more to "direct marketing" (e.g. page views, and clickthroughs) than to "brand" advertising. In fact, many of us have convinced ourselves such brand advertising is passe and irrelevant to this new environment.
Now, a powerful new video medium is exploding on the scene. It speaks to the traditional agency's core strength: story-telling. Moreover, it's a format that's infinitely more malleable and flexible than the current unit of expression (e.g. a :30 TV spot) affords. That spells opportunity. Indeed, the current TV ad model has put most traditional agencies in an inflexible straightjacket.
The new on-demand video environment opens up a wealth of opportunities to push ad models, well beyond pre-and-post rolls. They include:
The Watchouts: Despite my optimism about the potential for agencies to reassert leadership, there are big watchouts and barriers, among them:
I offer these rosy scenarios with a bit of bias. My father was a traditional agency guy, and a damn good one! The jingles and copy he brought home were all centered not on the notion of :30, but on very simple "big ideas" and themes. The spots emotionally connected with me in a way that still compels me to write about them. Accordingly, I've always agreed with Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Satchi, who noted in an ad:tech keynote last year: "What makes stories compel, attract, and grip is emotion."
In this exploding environment of self-expression, emotion truly matters. But emotion is also hard to ignite and manage. Will agencies please step up to the plate and show us how it's done?
Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."
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