What Does the Future of Advertising Look Like? Danielle Sacks Fills Us In

By Kiran Aditham Comment

Today, Fast Company‘s Danielle Sacks, who we deduce is either Alex Bogusky’s best friend or arch-nemesis, wrote a tome called “The Future of Advertising,” which claims that the ad industry is on the cusp of its first creative revolution since the days when Don Draper types puffed cigs and drank the days away.

To complete her opus, Sacks interviewed no less than 75 people in the industry, grabbing quotes from notables such as Publicis’ Maurice Lévy, McCann’s Nick Brien and IPG’s Michael Roth. What does the future look like? Rather than shake the 8-ball, we turned the spotlight onto Sacks herself to gain her insight from the rather extensive piece. To tease things a bit, Sacks tells us about agency progress, saying, “The economic model of agencies is one of the biggest prohibitors in agencies evolving. Agencies know they need to collaborate, but in many cases separate P&L’s mean different disciplines within an agency or holding company are built to compete against each other, rather than share and cooperate. Also, given that most of the industry is consolidated in behemoth public holding companies, most CEO’s who want to invest in R&D and change their internal structures are battling against the short-sighted nature of being part of a public company.”

Why specifically is there a “creative revolution” happening on Madison Ave. today? Social media, perhaps?

Historically every new medium that has entered the fray has bred a new kind of creative output in advertising. The last new medium to do that was television–specifically when paired with the duo of copywriter and art director–in 1960 with Bernbach. What’s different about the internet and digital is that unlike any new medium before it, it’s not just another channel. It’s a medium that has and will continue to bloom new mediums, making the creative possibilities to reach consumers both fluid and exponential. This is both exhilarating and daunting for the ad industry, but it’s their opportunity to lose.

Why would the ad industry get “left behind?”

It’s a combination of disruption, disintermediation, legacy issues, and a race to the bottom. Like them or not, crowdsourcing startups like GeniusRocket and Victors & Spoils are commodotizing the creative process at a fraction of the cost, technology companies like Google are digitizing and automating various roles in media buying, clients are opting to build their own ecosystems of specialist agencies shunning the agency of record model, and “The Great Race” between digital and traditional shops is creating competition to both the middle and the bottom. Add to that a fundamental problem with the agency business model: agencies get paid like lawyers do, for bodies and time. The challenge now is to create more work in less time for less money — while procurement is squeezing the cost of every body in the agency, and agencies are stuck on the treadmill of new business pitches which can cost upwards of $500k, and never even win the business. When the smoke clears, there’s not much money to be made.

What was the most surprising takeaway from your numerous interviews?

Nobody in the agency business knows how agencies should make money.

Was there any consensus amongst the interviewees regarding the ad industry?

Agencies and holding companies need to learn how to collaborate both internally and with competitors. With technology moving at the pace of Moore’s Law, agencies need to be built with flexibility and agility in their fabric. Agencies need to figure out how to do more with less, faster and cheaper. Traditional agency roles–ie. copywriter, art director, media planner–need to break down, and become hybridized. Media and creative–both on an individual level and at a holding company level–can no longer be divorced.

To me the most fascinating realization in my reporting was that advertising is a business that hasn’t changed in virtually 50 years. Whether you were a copywriter in 1962 or 2002, your job was virtually the same–and your goal was to perfect that one craft. Moving forward, the only constant in advertising will be change. Therefore the most coveted talent in the future (and present) needs to be able to continuously evolve, learn and adapt.