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Is Mars' Move a Bad Harbinger for Creatives?

TBWA\Chiat\Day loss nods to digital's supremacy

Photo by Roberto Brosan//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

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Are classic creative agencies losing a step? Mars’ recent split with TBWA\Chiat\Day points toward “yes.”

On the face of it, the shift was surprising. The Omnicom agency was still adding business from the marketer as recently as last year, when TBWA\C\D, which produced award-winning work on Mars’ Skittles, was awarded Twix. Mars helped fuel the agency’s global expansion, and was worth $40 million in revenue to TBWA\C\D last year.

The shop had little packaged-goods experience when it received its first assignment in ’02 from Mars/Masterfoods, but five years later it was handling nearly 30 of its brands.

So what’s the lesson to be learned now that TBWA\C\D has lost Mars to its more-established corporate sibling, BBDO? Perhaps it comes down to this: With digital defining the ad industry’s most dynamic frontiers, being known as a creative agency may have lost the sheen it once had when competing against mainstream rivals fast acquiring digital expertise and talent.

“All the new-age digital stuff is sexier and newer; [there are] increasingly more tools available to use creatively,” says Jon Bond. The CEO of social agency Big Fuel knows of what he speaks: He enjoyed the advantages of a high-profile creative pedigree during the glory days of Kirshenbaum & Bond.

Now, he says, the days when agencies can rest on their traditional creative laurels are long gone: “You can still do good TV ads and win a gold Lion at Cannes, but you’re a star in a shrinking market. It’s like being the last silent star before the talkies come in.”