The Agency of the Future

Jet packs to work, oblivion, or more of the same? From holding company honcho to media maverick -- industry heavies weigh in on what the not-too-distant future holds for the business, the work, and your job.

By Creativity Published on .

The Mobile Creative. c. 2025, as interpreted by Freestyle Collective
Network Agency Creative

In May of 2006, alarmed at the astonishing growth in creative talent costs, Omnicom and WPP will secretly and jointly initiate the construction of Consumer City, a brick by brick replica of the Maple Street set of Leave it to Beaver that will be located within driving distance of Mumbai.

There, a carefully selected population of 15,000 Indian orphans under the age of 9 will be fed a steady diet of junk food, carbonated beverages and contemporary American pop culture until the age of 18, when they will be inducted into an institution of higher learning with a curriculum based entirely on scripts from Room 222, Fame, and Welcome Back, Kotter! -- which the Culture Consortium (as it will be known) will have acquired the rights to under the guise of staging a series of equity waver plays in Studio City, California.

The students of Consumer City will be inducted into every facet of American culture. They will watch the Super Bowl via satellite feed; they will see American Idol, Survivor XXVII "Baltimore" and every episode of Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Law & Order Criminal Intent, Law & Order Nasty Icky, Law & Order Kiss My Booty and Law & Order Supernatural Exorcism Car Chases. They will, in short, become American Creative People (ACPs).

In 2020, the first graduating class will be housed in a Loft-like warehouse in an industrial district of Mumbai complete with Starbucks, panini grills and perky, flirty legal secretaries -- just like Manhattan -- and given the assignment of writing American advertising campaigns that will look, sound and feel like the genuine article. At a cost of 22¢ per man-hour including room, board and incidentals, the six-figure creative director job as we know it will cease to exist in North America. Meanwhile, the covert conspiracy initiated in 1997 by Interpublic and Wieden + Kennedy to eliminate all body copy and headlines in print advertising will be successful beyond their wildest dreams. In a world where copywriters need never learn how to write and art directors are not required to put any readable copy elements in ad campaigns, the need for creatives with ACS (actual communication skills) will cease to exist. The last known long copy ad for an authentic product will be published in 2005 for Zebco Reels (although, in a historic foot note, at the 2006 One Show, four golds will be given out for four separate long copy campaigns for four separate Japanese atrocity museums in Singapore.)

For a period of seven years commencing in 2021, the virtual elimination of creative talent costs will lead to outrageous profitability for communication holding companies -- who, absent talent costs -- will continue to charge top dollar for low or no cost labor. In 2028, however, a new piece of procurement software will make it possible for clients to identify consumers who are capable of actually "selling themselves." Customers will write e-mails to themselves explaining why they love the products they buy and urging themselves to buy more which will be sent back to them by gigantic servers that will be housed near Consumer City. "Word of mouth" advertising will be replaced by a new and more effective hybrid: "word of self."

The final creative person in all of advertising will be laid off in September of 2029. The Clio Awards will continue to exist until 2033 -- however, none of the 4,327 ads recognized with coveted Clio statues will be given for ads that actually ran. Ironically, agencies will continue to exist -- however, there will be only two jobs remaining in the agency itself that clients are willing to pay for: Powerpoint operator and focus-group attendee.

Holding Company Boss
First, geographically, the business will shift to Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and Russian and CIS countries. Currently (WPP) is roughly 40 percent U.S., 40 percent Europe and 20 percent Asia Pacific, Latin America and Africa/ Mid East. Our objective is to be a third each. Among the reasons are population concentration: half the world's population is in Asia currently and it'll be two thirds by 2014.

Second, currently just over half our business is outside of advertising in information insight and consultancy, which is basically market research; in public relations and public affairs; and in branding and ID, healthcare and specialist communications, and by that I principally mean direct, interactive, and internet. Currently it's about 50/50; we think it'll be two thirds outside advertising in five to ten years. Why? First because of the increasing cost of network TV, which continues to increase in cost at a faster rate than general price inflation and, second, because of the advent of new media and new technologies the latest of which will be DVRs or video on demand.

Third, quantitative media, what we call the quantitative aids to decision making, whether we like it, or whether creative departments like it or not, will become more important. In other words, two areas of our business in particular -- information insight and consultancy which is basically market research, and direct, interactive and internet which today account for about a third of our business–about $2 billion dollars of revenue out of $7 billion of revenue–will account in five to ten years for about half of our business.

We still think that the ideas and the thinking are the most important feature the clients look for, and that's work or thinking in the broadest sense, not just advertising in the creative department of ad agencies, it's in media, in brand ID, creativity in all its senses. Coordination and integration has moved up the client agenda to be a close second. You can see it in the biggest pitches going on in the industry now. That is about trying to utilize the resources of these groups in the most effective way, in an integrated way. And the third thing clients are focused on is price.

Independent Agency Upstart
20 years from now, there will be an award-winning British TV program blatantly ripped off for a fast food giant. Two obscure Swiss installation artists will have their video lifted almost verbatim for an award-winning car campaign. A "Life without something" campaign will be created. Pharmaceutical ads will dominate the commercials airways while BMW Films clones will become the norm. Someone will get artists or children or consumers to interpret their brand in a "brand by so-and-so" campaign. Someone will use their brand name's initials to form random words. "400 concepts. 30 creative teams. One formulaic headline that will get approved." Because someone else is doing a headline that starts with "Because". A Stomp-esque TV spot will be made. Someone will take existing packaging, replace the copy and make that their print ad. It will appear in triplicate and be considered a campaign. Someone will cut together a montage of images with a track from a well-known or up-and- coming artist and end with a logo. A dick or fart joke will surface. A product will be personified. And someone -- perhaps a marketing director, or a creative, or a journalist, or an awards show judge -- will finally change the advertising blueprint.

Network Agency-Affiliated Design Arm Leader
Twenty years from now, creative directors -- as we know them -- will be gone. They will be replaced by a new breed of storyteller who will be able to actually create a brand's value proposition -- as well as communicate it. The creative director of the future will know how to create brand mythologies, deliver brand experiences and delight customers at every interaction. This differs greatly from today's commodified model where agencies are mostly relegated to only communications.

The role of design -- still relegated to decoration in many agencies -- will dominate. Design is a brand's promise made visible, real -- and tangible. Identity, product design, packaging, store and event design will play the key role in defining how we experience brands. Agencies that don't get this will be gone.

To get to this evolutionary position, we need to cultivate creative people who are, from the start, transmedia thinkers. Individuals who move across widely different creative platforms easily and quickly. I already see this in young creative thinkers who have a global outlook and global experience. They think as readily in interactive as they do in advertising as they do in design. The dreary TV model no longer dominates their creative ambitions. Rather, they see things in three and even four dimensions -- and work in all of them. And the creative mecca for advertising will no longer be a wannabe movie festival in Cannes. It will be the International Design (and Advertising) Conference in Aspen.

DVR Maker
In 20 years, advertising will blend further and further with entertainment to the point where there is little differentiation. Ad campaigns will include viral, long-form video "programs," distributed freely. "Broad reach" media planning will be a thing of the past, in terms of a brand being able to "buy" guaranteed reach. Intelligent ideas and great creative will be the only way to assure reach when consumers can control their commercial viewing. The process of making a great ad campaign in 20 years will be much like making a hit TV program or movie today. The idea will either be big enough to survive or it won't. Advertisers will know immediately what's working and what isn't. When it works, the advertiser will create enormous buzz and sales. When it doesn't, the brand will become invisible, lost in a world of communications overload.

Technology will give advertisers a completely new palate of options in 20 years. TV content will be available from many sources and targeted to niche consumer groups. Your TV will be connected to the web and able to pull programming from anywhere. You won't know where it comes from in many cases. A network? A programmer? An advertiser? All you care about is the content. Today's several hundred channels will seem small and quaint, the way our parent's 13 channels seems to us. Search engines that help us find the video content will be very powerful in terms of aggregating the eyeballs and determining what content makes it to our TVs.

On the ad agency side, art directors and copywriters will not go away, they will be more important than ever. They will create the ideas that communicate with and engage the viewing audience. Words and visuals will always be the key tools! Those who know how to manipulate them will be valuable assets. However, they will have to be skilled at story telling well beyond 30 seconds. They will tell episodic stories. They will create everything from five-second TV ads (essentially headlines to long-form, DVR-based interactive ads) to two-hour branded movies. The best branded movies will win awards at Sundance and get picked up by studios for theatrical release. Others will spawn sequels or weekly "sitcoms," virtually indistinguishable in the consumers' minds from other "non-commercial" content. A major brand might spend 50% or more of its annual budget creating a single "program"...

Media planners will not go away. Their job gets even more complicated and critical. They won't be buying nearly as many "pre-packaged" ad units, but working with the content providers (networks, programmers, etc.) to integrate their brands deep in that content. Traditional broadcast ads will persist and become valuable real estate in programs that have a high portion of live viewership (sporting events, etc.). But even "traditional" ads will change. Most viewers will have the option of interacting with them for lead generation, surveys, contests or to purchase directly from their TV.

Ad agencies that evolve beyond the :30 mold will thrive and battle with large and small studios for access to brand dollars. The weapon of choice? A great piece of video content that can do two things: entertain and effectively integrate the brand positioning.

Holding Company Boss
The famous Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once said, "There are years in which nothing happens and years in which centuries happen." In our business these days, it seems as if every year is one of the latter. Trying to look out 20 years is like being asked to predict the next millenium, so instead, I'll stick to a few enduring truths.

Talent will always be the primary driver of success. Holding companies must create a culture that is not just talent-friendly, but talent-committed.

Consolidation and boutiquification will continue to co-exist. Globalization and increasing media complexity require the resources of large organizations; much of the energy, ferment and change required to connect with today's consumers is found in independent centers of excellence.

Clients don't care what resources we have. They don't want to hear about process, they want teams of marketing geniuses who can create transformational ideas -- the kinds that grow their business.

Getting the strategy and message right is not enough. Creativity will also be about having the right recipe -- one part TV, one PR campaign, two experiential marketing events and a pinch of proprietary embedded content.

It's all about touchpoints. Thousands, every day. Increasingly, we'll be called upon to understand the value of each of them. And the ROI of pretty much everything we do.

Okay, one prediction. Companies that "get" these truths, no matter their size, are the only ones that will have a future.

The age of advertising as defined by the post-war boom in the consumer marketplace and modern broadcast technique will be fully extinct by the year 2012. Television will become more and more of an abstract and antiquated notion of broadcast as broadband Internet becomes the next over-saturated media venue. Original content and advertising for television will be considered as charmingly quaint as Burma-Shave road ads around 2015. Email will be destroyed by advertising; the near-instant global communication Email once provided will be replaced by cool-ass Walkie-Talkies. Watch for free cellular phone services to pop up, under the caveat that before one makes a call, one must listen to or watch a short ad. Calls will be monitored for marketing points, buzzwords, and brand saturation.

So, yes. TV will die. However, each and every flat surface that can support a screen will. Advertising will explode across the landscape like pimples on prom night; there will be no escape from the coming Ad Plagues. Viral Marketing becomes terrifyingly literal-- inoculations and vaccines against Product Sickness will prove useless. H.I.V.H.1 asserts broadcast superiority over Florida, Arizona Bay, and other major retirement centers in the United States. A particularly rampant strain of the EboAOLa Virus will create feral tribes of young girls incapable of speaking any language other than AIMglish. LOL! OMG! They will speak in all-caps, and rend men's flesh from bone for sport.

Billions of people will find themselves falling victim to Extreme Target Marketing. Product Loyalty will become secondary to Brand Loyalty; Brand Loyalty will trump any other creed or nationality. The Second Cola Wars (2021-2023) will prove this point in blood and syrup as The Royal Crown Successionists manage to claim more than 60% of what is currently known as "Mexico." Royal Crown's Mexicola, as the new nation will be named, will reopen to diplomatic relations with The United Nations of Benetton after claiming the lives of more than two million volunteers in the KISS Army.

Hardcore Pornography is the new black. After the Ashcroft Pornopogroms of 2006 clears Porn Valley out of California and into it's new capital of Bukkakey West, Florida, major media initiatives marrying porno and advertising will inject triple-X action into even the most innocent of products. Laugh all you like, but when you see how effective Siamese sex dwarves are at peddling adult diapers you can't say we didn't warn you.

What does this mean for the art of advertising? Quite simply, we here at MK12 feel that Andy Warhol got it wrong. In the future, everyone will be branded for 15 minutes. We have begun research and development into Personal Branding Initiatives (PBI). MK12 has already started mastering the art of Personal Broadcast. We can deliver a logo that announces your presence and personality to the world with an emphasis on clarity of messaging. We custom-craft your brand to reach as wide a demographic as possible -- specializing in the 18-22 male demo, of course -- in a memorable manner that ensures you will be talked about. Jaw-dropping animated effects and graphics treatments insure you a defining presence in the modern world. Everyday is the Super Bowl. We are all corporations now.

Euro Independent Agency Prinicpal/Creative
Chances are huge that a lot of people who are working in advertising nowadays won't be in the same business in 10 years. Why? Well, because we have been a lazy industry in the last 40 years. While others around us innovated, most of us are still working in the system that was created in the '50s in the United States. Ad agencies are dinosaurs and not very quick when it comes to change.

In the meantime, consumers are getting every day more bored when it comes to advertising. Zapping was only the beginning. The TiVo is on its way to Europe. Advertising needs to reinvent itself. Otherwise, not only our audiences will be bored, also the people working in advertising will be very bored and start thinking about something else exciting to do. Top creatives like Alex Bogusky shouldn't be making 15-second commercials that hardly anyone watches. With the talent he has, he should be making a feature film, which might be sponsored by one of his clients and is part of a campaign for that client. Look, for example, at what BMW has been doing in the United States. But that's only the beginning. In general, we need to bring in new talent from other areas into our agencies, broaden our thinking and start producing communication instead of advertising.

A book of poems could be much more effective than a boring single-page ad. A smart distribution solution might be more effective than a stupid moving billboard. Furthermore, we need to work much closer with the companies we now produce advertising for. We should almost become part of these companies and help them create a vision they can aspire to. For years, we all have promoted endless consumption; maybe it's time now to think a bit differently about this if we'd still like to have a planet in 50 years. Instead of making more products that we don't need, maybe we should be making fewer but better products that last longer and don't make the environment angry.

The responsibility is on our shoulders. You can't say we are only the messengers, because we are part of this economic system -- a system that is becoming obsolete and is upsetting more and more people in the world, especially, the people that can't profit at all from it. Think about all the people who see us getting richer and richer every day and who have nothing at all. Who, maybe, when they're lucky, still have a job producing all the stuff we consume so quickly. We can all learn a lot from a small country in the Himalayas called Bhutan. They have a different point of view on economics. They don't have the Gross National Product as an indicator, they have Gross National Happiness. They only promote economic growth when it makes everyone happy. Idealistic? Yeah, but the thinking is useful. Has it anything to do with advertising? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Yes, if you really think about how to spend your life in a useful way. No, if you just want to hang out at advertising festivals and think about the next big award. In advertising, we always look at what's been done in the past. The best commercial in Cannes this year will ‘inspire' lots of creatives to do more or less the same next year. Why can't we create other messages for our clients besides just promoting their products? In a world with so much hate and fear, our communication should be optimistic and meaningful.

As an industry, we should broaden ourselves and discover the new worlds around us. They're all there, waiting for us. We should open up the curtains and go out and play.

Creative Shop Chairman/New-Model Network Architect
I think that for a time -- I don't know for how long but hopefully for a while -- there can be a network based on the best creative companies, and I don't think it will ever be like a holding company because one of the things it's going to have to do is to be more of a partner. I think that most talented, smart people in this business are leery about being owned by anyone. So I think that that kind of partner or that kind of resource can exist if they can create and maintain a culture that these people -- the people who build businesses in this industry -- can live with.

And whatever any kind of partner or affiliate or holding company will look like in the future will be much less centralized than what they look like today. People in this business are anarchists -- people in this business who are good are unmanageable. The only reason I'm even attempting to (build a network like this) is I think we've created a culture at this agency that's a unique culture. A lot of what we are has never come from management at the top it has always bubbled up from below. The good people in this business tend to be like that, they tend to thrive in those conditions so I think that any network of the future that's going to succeed is going to be decentralized, unmanagement oriented. They are going to be more of a partner and a resource than they are a manager.

I don't want to be a collection of good agencies or even great agencies. I think there are a lot of smart people who are in fields that help to build brands that don't do ads that I want to be associated with. I don't want to buy anyone who's for sale -- I'm looking to partner with really smart people who seem to me to be poised to grow as the revolution in marketing continues. I think what I see going on in the marketing business overall is that big is no benefit anymore. It's certainly no benefit for most marketers. I think small is good, flexible is good and innovative is good. So I'm looking for people who don't necessarily have a huge vested interest in the status quo.

Network Agency Creative
There will be fewer but stronger brands. Those that do not understand the power of design and the importance of truly becoming an integral part of the culture will wither and die. Those that "get it" will flourish by constantly broadening and reinforcing their touchpoints with their customers, all the while staying true to their philosophical values. It is not a big leap to imagine Nike owning the bottled water category or Apple making children's toys. After spending the billions required to become iconic, they will want to maximize the value of what they have invested in so heavily and for so long.

Consumers will be in a period of life simplification that focuses more on the experiential than the material. They will buy fewer things, but better things. The agencies that help these companies sell these better things will still come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. From Big and Global to small and entrepreneurial. And while the creative departments within them will still consist of people called art directors and writers, they would more appropriately be called ideators. They will be more generalist and idea focused and more media neutral than they are today. And, happily, the departments will finally be more representative of the culture at large -- more diverse in terms of sex, ethniticity, nationality and yes, even age. There will be a sprinkling of 70- and even 80-year-olds back in their cubicles writing ads. There will even be a few startup agencies in Florida and Arizona to take advantage of their proximity to this suddenly in demand talent pool. The aged and self-indulgent baby boomers will not stand for being told what to think and buy from a bunch of twenty-somethings who have not shared what they believe are the unique experiences of their generation. We are far too egocentric to listen to anyone other than ourselves.

U.K.-based Media Hotshop Principal
The current landscape -- in point form:

  • More channels; fragmentation; more control -- less unifying experiences; more boredom with advertising, ad marketing cynics; digital speed of transmission of thoughts, opinions and ideas; management consultants -- downsizing, outsourcing; customer consultants -- managing how you develop relationships with people. This will the be most important battle ground for companies in the future.

  • Shift from factory mentality of maintaining services where production of a single item (ads/dm/buying) is the center of business in terms of profitability and positioning to one where real time is spent looking at relationships between brand and consumer holistically, the nature of the current relationship and what the consumer wants from the brand moving forward.

  • Shift the definition of many of the old fashioned departments -- for example
    Creatives: creative problem solvers and managers of disparate executional skill sets
    Planners: have holistic understanding of consumers
    Media: looks at all touch points between brand and consumers

  • Creative people broaden their base, with a broader chunk taught to come up with ideas -- working in teams, e.g., one creative, one context (media); briefed by planner.

  • Define the creative and then manage and source a variety of different executional channels from advertising, relationships, experiences to viral.

  • Fragmented delivery of creative ideas will leave networks "bolting on" smaller boutiques, an admittance that they can't keep pace.
  • Fluid executional talent on outside of big groups and from sectors not currently playing a big part of the marketing communications arena -- TV producers, event organizers, etc.
  • Dominant brands have deep understanding of their core customers, and clear view on how their brands should behave.
  • Shift from the old advertising model of "renting space" in media channels to a newer "freehold model" of owning their own specific style, approach and properties.
  • Fusion between media and blue chip brands driven by convergence.
  • The sad thing is people will look the same!

Ad School Leader
More than 20 years ago, David Ogilvy said, "Our business needs massive transfusions of talent. And talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels."

That was true 20 years ago, and I believe it will be true 20 years from now. Creative individuals in the future will probably not be much different than today. They will still be the rebels who want to push us to the edge. They are problem solvers who more than likely still have a discipline or craft. What will set them apart from others -- just as what differentiates them today -- is how intuitive they are, how different they think and how diversely they can execute.

The big differences are how they react to new and changing cultural influences. The creatives of the future will have to be much more vassal and have the ability to create ideas that can live in many different mediums. And they will need to create new forms of communication.

Creatives of today are beginning to mutate and evolve and some can already be found at Crispin, Modernista!, Fallon, Taxi, where they're breaking down the barriers between advertising, entertainment, gaming and design. At VCU I see students everyday who also see advertising through a prism of changing media venues, where the last thing they think about is a 30-second commercial.

Independent Agency Creative
The way in which ideas are delivered to consumers will change dramatically. The impact of television will diminish. The impact of digital will increase. What will not change is the need for a great idea. That's an eternal truth.

(This article appears in the May 2004 issue of Creativity.)

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