How Mad Ave Opened the Door to Management Consultancies

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Ad agencies started out as places where marketers could get stuff they couldn't get anywhere else.

Less operational/organizational left brain stuff; more independent, intuitive, creative stuff.

This dynamic changed throughout the 20th century, as technology increasingly shrank the world. Businesses became more and more able to quantify.

Turned out that a marketer needn't rely on the intuitive generation of ideas: telecoms and computing were rendering the world and its inhabitants increasingly knowable.

CFOs—the quant guys (usually guys, I'm afraid)—got promoted to CEOs. Not surprisingly, this new generation of CEOs wanted quantifiable data, not intuition, from their CMOs. CMOs passed this demand on to their ad agencies.

Thus the story of the latter part of the 20th century became one of marketing and ad agencies increasingly embracing technology and working to subtract doubt, rather than add intuition.

As the digital era took hold, data grew into Big Data. It became much like oxygen, permeating all of human existence. Unlike oxygen, data reported back. Everything everyone did, said or desired became instantly quantifiable and actionable.

Knowability was nirvana, while stuff like intuition and creativity smelled distinctly musty.

Proponents of the latter were dubbed "traditional." This may have been payback for the decades that "arrogant creative hot shops" had dominated advertising awards shows and developed an unbeatable model: the more awards they won, the more brilliant creative people wanted to work there for a fraction of the salary that they'd take at a less/un creative agency.

Instead of moving heaven and earth to heat up creatively, most of the big network agencies were led by businesspeople who didn't live or die by creativity; instead, they moved heaven and earth to deposition it.

Creativity was a matter of opinion like modern art, they argued; all that mattered was effectiveness.

So the big networks who couldn't attract top creative talent moved to undermine artistry. By muddying the waters, they legitimized a new influx of people who were "creatives" only in a looser sense of the word.

Legendary creative leader and founder of DDB, Bill Bernbach, called artistry, "[T]he only thing standing between the forgettable and enduring." Ad agencies now made perhaps the most critical error of all by choosing to ignore Bernbach's words in favor of a different, less demanding kind of "creativity."

From then on, modern attributes such as personability, even-temperedness in the face of their work being butchered, speed and efficiency above creative ambition became de rigueur for new "creative" recruits.

As Madison Avenue fell in thrall to a new, digitized, frictionless universe, the world-class, traditionally-brilliant who placed nothing above quality, were excised on brand-new late 20th century/early 21st century grounds. They were the opposite of frictionless: they were precious; they were difficult.

As the overall standard of advertising now inevitably plunged, there was an unexpected kneejerk from some cutting-edge marketers: ignoring the sanctity of the AOR, they looked for creative quality anywhere they could find it.

Some marketers now have a dozen or more agencies on their roster. This is a state of affairs still in its infancy, its full effects far from being realized.

Meanwhile, Mad Ave's shifting creative ambition had unwittingly opened another potential trapdoor to disaster.

New players on the field

Management consultancies had held off a full frontal assault on the advertising sector because of their lack of "creative chops."

Now, energizing reports flooded in from the ad agency front: marketers aren't crazy about the work they're getting; ad agency creative culture seems to have radically changed, and even seems compatible with consultancy culture; agency creatives are no longer these outliers with skillsets … they're just like us.

It would be a brave person who would bet that consultancies, with their hooks far deeper into the client C-suite than agencies, noses unbloodied by transparency issues around media buying and such, will now fail to close the deal.

I suspect the future of Mad Ave is now in the hands of the creatively excellent and intuitive, be they writers, designers, strategists -- you name it -- denizens of brilliant smaller shops who have held fast to their creative core. They are now the ones offering the ideas that marketers can find nowhere else, the true heirs of Ogilvy and Bernbach.

Enduring ideas brimming with artistry that appeal to the other part of a human being—not what they do and like and tweet—but ideas that resonate with what they really feel.

You don't need to a devotee of marketingscience.com to know that such advertising—advertising that engages the emotions—is 84% more likely to be remembered and correctly attributed.

Which is where, all those decades ago, the original ad agencies came in.

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