In the advertising industry, the rapid development of technology over the last six decades has resulted in an array of tools to facilitate all areas of the business, from creative development to media planning to post-campaign reporting.
In the 1950s, TV opened up the visual medium for advertisers to reach a mass audience. In the 1970s, cable TV allowed for targeting of messages to niche audiences, through technologies such as local ad insertion. Digital camera development in the 1980s introduced new graphics and editing capabilities. And the mass adoption of the Internet in the 1990s, which many in the business say is the most profound technological development of all, opened up global audiences to advertisers, letting them track virtually all online activity.
But all this comes with a price. With so much technology to choose from, ad executives say there can be a loss of human connection in the process, and overautomation in the ad business that can limit creativity.
"My problem is with the way agencies are looking at technology," says Jonathan Davis, senior VP-director of TV production at Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.
"I've spoken to creatives within our agency, and they feel there are too many limitations with existing technologies and the way agencies now work within their confines," he says, noting that while agencies may be full of good technology, often those with technological expertise are separated from creatives, and they could benefit from working closer with each other.
Gene Lofaro, senior VP-executive producer at Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, points to the reverse problem with technology-too many cooks in the kitchen.
"The downside is, more people see [the work] than need to," Mr. Lofaro says, referring to processes such as sending creative work over the Internet. "There are times when people see things, such as stop-motion animation and work in progress, who are relatively unsophisticated and can make rash judgments."
However, despite the potential downfalls of technology, these and other executives agree that overall, technology is a good thing for the ad business and has brought them powerful new ways to create work for and collaborate with clients.
For example, while on a shoot in Guatemala for a series of Texaco TV commercials, Mr. Lofaro needed to see a rough cut of a Texaco spot shot earlier to show his director. It resided on the film editor's computer in New York.
From a phone line in his hotel room, Mr. Lofaro used FTP (file transfer protocol) over the Internet to download a video of the cut, then took his computer to the location.
"We sat down in the town square in Guatemala and played it right on my laptop," Mr. Lofaro says.
Mr. Lofaro, who started out in the ad business in 1969, says the development of digital video technology has had the greatest impact on the creative side of the ad business, giving producers, directors and editors unlimited creative freedom.
"If you can think it, you can do it," he says.
Other ad veterans point to technologies that allow for greater communications between agencies, clients and customers as having significant impact on the business.
"I've been told that 50 years ago, tools of the trade used to be about martini lunches," says Tim Love, managing partner of global ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, owned by Publicis Groupe.
Mr. Love, who has been in the advertising business for 25 years, adds, "Today, it's still about having strong relationships between clients and agencies, but it's far more healthier."
He points to the convergence of electronic media as a key driver affecting change in the ad business.
"The changes that I've seen in my career, and that I'm seeing today, are still very much an outgrowth of the proliferation of global media-the convergence of electronic technology, the television and broadband development-and this is having a tremendous effect on society in general worldwide and the way business is done. We are indeed operating in the global village," Mr. Love says.
He says this convergence means consumers all over the world are interacting with an advertiser's brand (or "love mark," as Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts coins it), so agencies need to keep a constant vigil on communications and create one-to-one relationships with consumers.
"We have to think like the sun," he adds.
Other advertising leaders say the whole business has to change in a world that's increasingly connected as a result of the Internet and other technologies. "It's not just about the tools, it's about an entirely different model," says Brendan Ryan, CEO of True North Communications' FCB Worldwide, New York, and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "The future of our business is database driven," Mr. Ryan says. "It's all about database marketing."
"The Web enables us to communicate in a much more intelligent way," he adds. "We know much more about consumers and what they want. We can tailor our messages much more carefully, and that information can be used to hone TV advertising and everything else."
Brad Brinegar, CEO of Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, agrees that marketers need to find ways to better target their messages, but not lose sight of long-term brand building. "The world is ever more focused on one-to-one communications," Mr. Brinegar says.
"We need to manage a brand and stay up to date with the tools, whether they are high-tech or low-tech." He points to viral marketing as a tool. "How the heck do you viral market? That is a tool. I can't tell you what that tool is," Mr. Brinegar says.
Despite not being able to come up with an exact definition of viral marketing, Leo Burnett launched a campaign for Altoids mints, aiming to create a cult-like following among the hard-to-reach hip teen and young adult audience. Staying away from TV, the agency used postcards in hot restaurants, ads in bus shelters and print ads in alternative press, with the tagline "curiously strong," growing Altoids' market share from 0.4% to 25%.
Burnett, like many agencies today, is in the process of redefining its structure and evaluating how it works with clients to deliver the best set of services possible, using a variety of technologies to meet client needs on an account-by-account basis. "We have to start with the question: What are the problems we're trying to solve?" Mr. Brinegar says. "For some companies, the best solution is a TV commercial. For others, the tools might include an active Web presence and a deep and very rich data environment."
Regardless of the tools that are used, the challenge for advertisers and agencies in the future will be to balance advances in technology with the core of the ad business. "We need one-to-one relationships, but we also need a brand that adds up to something," Mr. Brinegar says.