The End of the World as We Know It? I Hope So

The One Constant in This Business Is Change

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
IBM did a report suggesting that advertising will dramatically change in the next five years. I've got news for Big Blue, it has dramatically changed every five years of my career and I've been around awhile. Though the report had some relevant information, it made me snicker at its not-too-original doomsday prophecy that ad agency creative is going to be threatened by customer-generated ads. To which I state, "Where do you think the idea of customer-generated content originates?" That's right. An ad agency "created" the idea.

Customer-generated work can be very effective. It can even be creative, but to suggest that it is somehow cheaper or more insightful is simply yelling, "Boo!" As an agency owner and creative director, I am much more concerned about the real danger that has always threatened our industry: our own unwillingness to push a client's marketing forward.

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There is a misguided feeling of safety in the familiar. It is difficult to get a client that has never marketed itself in a certain way to suddenly throw a great deal of its overall budget into a viral campaign that only uses social media and online video games to communicate with the market. It is very tempting for agencies to surrender to a client's fear of the unknown and just produce another print campaign.

IBM's report said there are four change drivers tipping the advertising industry balance of power. Before I go further I would really like to know what exact "power" it is that we have? When I read things like that I relate it to the same nonsense about "subliminal" advertising that was popular when I was a kid. The fact is this industry simply tries to communicate a story about a product or service in a compelling way to a consumer. We have no power. The power has always and will always lie with the consumer. If they relate to the message, they may buy the brand. It's that simple.

But, on with our story. The four change drivers are: control of attention, creativity, measurement and advertising inventories. OK. So what's new? I dare say that J. Walter Thompson would have made the same list over a century ago. The truth is if you aren't paying attention to the continual change of our industry, you're dead.

So why did IBM submit this report in such apocalyptic fashion? It's simple. It's an ad. That's right. IBM is simply selling its Institute for Business Value services. Is this advertising an example of the revolution to come? On the contrary, this technique is as old as J. Walter. Is it relevant today? Well I'm writing about it, so you make the call.

My point is: advertising is change. It has always been about change. Those in our industry that realize it build agencies that survive decades and even generations. Most agencies don't and they die after a few years. It's not a catastrophe. It's natural. If reports like IBM's open your eyes in an unexpected way, you might want to consider doing something else for a living.

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