Marketing Has No One Model Anymore

The Quest for the Silver Bullet is Over -- Thank God

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Two weeks, two watersheds in the marketing conversation. As panel after panel unfolded during Advertising Week and the ANA's annual conference, I tried a couple of simple games (all you need is a pen and paper) to maintain focus. I tallied mentions of the phrases "the consumer is in control" (48) and "as I wrote in my blog" (17); I constructed a sartorial standards metric that irrefutably proved Discovery's Joe Abruzzese to be the best dressed in the business; and I ran a made-up jargon jamboree, giving my top prize to Google's Eric Schmidt for his use of "anonymized," and a commendation to Bob Liodice for the old crowd-pleaser "mutuality."

Then I tried the marginally more meaningful practice of identifying themes that ran through a number of the panels. There were new iterations of the pointless old debate about whether marketing is art or science. There was worrying evidence that some in the business still think a new logo equals re-branding. And there were the usual array of awkward media-owner moments when they said everything by saying nothing-pitching their individual offerings rather than speaking to the bigger issues.

Amid all this hot air and futility, one could detect two significant shifts taking place.

No. 1: It seems the industry has given up its pot-of-gold hunt for a silver-bullet model to replace the ailing 80/20 ad-centric media plan. Group M's big brain, Irwin Gotlieb, said it on the Monday morning of Advertising Week, at the Madison & Vine East event-"there is no one-size-fits-all model"-and those words were echoed by big-name speakers throughout the two events.

Thank the marketing gods for that. While it may seem obvious that the models that sell cosmetics, cars or condos are necessarily different, we have endured several long years during which we heard time and again that "the" model is broken. There was never just one model, the models aren't broken in every case (witness double-digit sales growth at P&G or Starbucks, for example) and no single model is going to emerge that can be applied to each and every category.

Hundreds of marketing-mix models, an ever-growing body of knowledge on what works, millions of consumer insights and the necessity for instinct and emotional connection add up to an exciting, exacting business-an imperfect one, but one that cannot be easily commoditized, outsourced or mechanized.

Shift No. 2: The increasing acceptance of a client-controlled marketing world, as illustrated by the myriad marketers who talked about shaping their agency relationships to suit their needs and by a number of agency executives who accepted that the old one-type-suits-all agency is dying, along with agency-of-record relationships.

Again this seems obvious-haven't clients always held the purse strings? Weren't they always in control? But somehow they were dictated to by the biggest agencies and media owners, largely because there were limited alternatives, and it wasn't easy to coordinate integrated efforts across multiple geographies. But the creation of powerful global media networks that offer another translation and distribution option, as well as the proliferation of technologies that make monitoring campaigns and trafficking digital assets a lot easier, have enabled clients to do more picking and choosing.

This will force agencies to be more flexible in how they operate, and better at integrating their cross-discipline partners (a key factor in BBDO's recent successes). Think of it as creating agency dashboards with switches that can be flicked on and off by clients as and when they're needed-or, as R/GA's Bob Greenberg called it at the ANA, the "modularization" of agencies.

"Yes," he later confessed. "It's a made-up word."

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