Advertising: Who Cares? “Let’s Start…

… at the very beginning. A very good place to start”. [Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers]

The last Cog Blog post, co-authored with Nick Manning created a stir. Described by some as a ‘call to arms’ and no doubt by others as ‘two old blokes desperately seeking relevance’ (which by the way we neither need nor want), the point we were, and are making is that for many in the advertising industry the advertising itself has become an after-thought.

This is a far bigger problem than many recognise. Even if it sounds familiar, few would like to admit that what’s been happening over the last decade or two is putting the future of the business, and many who work in it at risk.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Customers, prospective customers, real people don’t care about adtech, platforms, data or media rebates. They care, if they care about anything in our business, about the ads.

Are they fun? Entertaining? Informative? Persuasive? Interesting? Shareable? Noticeable? For me? Relevant? Timely?

Perceived wisdom has it that nobody notices a media plan. True enough but get the media plan wrong and nobody will notice the ad either.

Getting the plan right is at the heart of our Who Cares? initiative.

The best, the most effective ads come from a collaboration between strategists, creatives, media planners, and analysts.

It may be stating the obvious, but the strategist distils data into a core idea; the creatives work the core idea into an execution; the media guys amplify the execution by placing it in those places where it will have the greatest impact; the analysts report if it impacted the business and together everyone decides what needs to improve next time.

Where are the buyers in this? The dealmakers? The adtech suppliers? The DSPs/ SSPs and all those other acronyms?

They exist to execute the plan. As efficiently, and as painlessly as possible.

Not to change it, fiddle with it, create frankly dubious numbers and concepts to ‘improve it’.

Just to deliver it.

This isn’t easy, it is both a sophisticated and a skilful business, but it’s the last stage in the process, not the first.

It’s also table-stakes. Yes, it needs to be paid for, but it shouldn’t be seen as a hidden source of revenue for the agencies. That should always be, must be the client.

Our issue, and why we started the Who Cares? campaign is that these delivery mechanisms are negatively affecting the end product, the ad.

Nobody is suggesting we should go back to the ‘Madmen’ era and ignore anyone who questions the creatives’ art; but equally it’s wrong to rely 100% on the ‘Mathmen’.

Some say this is an inevitable evolution of the business. It isn’t – in evolution the best bits survive.

The ‘Mathmen’ approach ends with messages that deliver sameness, blandness, and, for the consumer, tedium.

Messages that don’t work.

It takes away judgement and replaces it with a false certainty, the sort of certainty that claims that my enlarged photocopy of the Mona Lisa is a greater work of genius than the original just because mine is on a bigger canvas.

‘Mathmen’ may not destroy the ad industry but they are turning it into something else, with all sorts of unpredicted consequences.

One such is that we’re no longer an attractive proposition for those young people best suited to a career in a creative industry.

This has come up a number of times in the response Nick Manning and I have had – from students, their professors, and teachers. Advertising is simply no longer a particularly attractive profession.

Starting salaries in media agencies are, we have been surprised to learn much the same as c.20 years ago. There’s not even the balancing factor of ‘fun’ anymore. And there’s still the same mental stresses and strains, the uncertainties, the (often un-necessarily) long hours.

Those who have contacted us privately from the holding companies talk of the primacy of the dealmakers over those with client knowledge, and the favouring of media channels with whom their parent has deals, over doing the right thing for the client.

It’s worth remembering the 2016 transparency scandal started in the USA by Jon Mandel, supported by the ANA, ignored, scandalously by the agencies and their trade association.

Here’s a link or two to blogs from back then. Nick Manning, my co-troublemaker in Who Cares? was deeply involved in the reporting of this at the time.

This isn’t a new point – but it is one that needs the disinfectant of light applied to it.

We’ve received more support than we imagined likely for the Who Cares? initiative.

We’ve so far heard from clients, creative agencies, media agencies, research businesses, consultancies in UK, USA, Germany, Holland, Estonia, China, Singapore, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

About 4,000 have read the blog post and about 120 have written to offer us help, support and active participation in the event we’re planning later in the year (September 12th – save the day!).

One thing that hasn’t unduly surprised us is those we have not heard from.

Nothing from many of the usual experts and commentators. Where are the high-profile media consultancies? Where are all those people who tell us in posts and on platforms, how to ‘do’ advertising? Strangely quiet this time.

What about the large adtech businesses? The platforms?

What about the holding companies? Not a squeak.

We’ve looked at where the audience to the original post came from.

Four out of the top five organisations hosting the largest number of individuals accessing the post came from holding companies and major platforms.

It looks as if we are generating interest amongst individuals, even if not with the organisations for whom they work.

We are delighted to hear from anyone, or any organisation interested in our plans. Some from the larger, silent organisations have contacted us in a private capacity. We are especially grateful to them.

We are happy for people to contact us anonymously and to ask us to keep their names hidden. We know how hard it can be to speak out against working practices with which you may disagree.

The event we’re planning (September 12th) is for all – we think it will be far better if those currently remaining silent do decide to attend to put their point-of-view.

But to those wishing to support us, you don’t have to cause problems for yourself.

We’ll make the fuss; and we’re beyond caring – except for the business we love.

  1. Have you had any contact from any trade/professional bodies ?

  2. For me this is the most balanced overview of an Industry we all love dearly . A very frustrating time indeed . Even when you clearly demonstrate the clear ineffieciencies in the current mediia ecosystems , the agencies and often client as well auto correct , but correct back to the criminal tech network that is doing its best to destroy our Industry . Why is this ? Financial harm ? Reputational harm ? or just plain fear of the unknown ???

  3. Interesting as ever. Date saved. Thinking of writing about it for my Media Leader column if that’s ok?

  4. Thanks Bob…yes re TML, go for it!

  5. Interested!

  6. It was the late nineties. It was a Monday morning meeting. A media director presented options offered by the leading newspaper for ‘standard innovations.’
    We were in an agency where we could laugh outright and ask him to roll the newspaper and.

    The agency was a creative powerhouse etc. It imploded and I moved to another agency that wasn’t; this phenomenon was the norm out there.

    Things change. Mindsets? Not so sure about them.

    Yours is a well-written argument. It lacks a few words: Time, date and location.

  7. Great stuff.
    Please add my name to any further info about 12/09. Thanks.

  8. Will do Andy, and sorry for the delay!

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