What Does ‘OmniPub’ Have to Do With Creativity?

Economies of scale finally trumps the power of the idea

I was beginning to wonder why all this advertising stuff is so hard. Thank goodness someone has figured out how to make advertising cheap, and easy. It’s all about size. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any bigger, along comes OmniPub.

Don't get me wrong: I love these two guys. Maurice Lévy and John Wren have shown us they have what it takes to become the kingpins of our industry, starting with a background in accounting and IT. It should come as no surprise that they have figured out how to apply microeconomics to advertising.

Now, to be honest, I don't remember dreaming about "economies of scale" when I started in this business, but that was a long time ago. Back then, we celebrated the craft and the power of the idea—not the joining of bulky balance sheets. Sure, every business needs to make money. But back in the day, I was taught to focus on making your client a success and the money will follow, not the other way around.

Let's suppose that Maurice and John’s monster-merge will be wildly positive for our industry—something they would seem to want us to believe, judging by all the giggling on their Parisian terrace this past Monday. It could only be true if size mattered. If scale defines success in advertising, then they’ve nailed it.

I asked around to see whether the industry was buying it. Chuck McBride, executive creative director at Cutwater, shared his point of view: “It's the absolute commoditization of the idea business. Where do the best ideas come from? The largest institution? That is not where innovation occurs.”

I reached out to Luke Sullivan, author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, chair of the advertising department at Savannah College of Art and another passionate mad man who knows a thing or two about making and teaching the world great advertising. He told me if someone at either Omni or Pub says it's for the clients, “give them a fire extinguisher for their pants.”

Shireen Jiwan, chief investigator at Sleuth, a planner-led brand consultancy and research company, is not sure that the ginormous scale will help: “Unless the leadership plans to trim and restructure, the effect will be to slow down an already bloated and unresponsive agency industry at a time when our clients are looking for agility, cultural awareness and responsiveness above all else.”

Perhaps OmniPub’s plan is to trim expenses, and therefore, the jumbo scale can lead to success if it’s defined in terms of cutting costs. The companies expect to discharge $500 million in cost savings by combining forces.

David Nobay, Droga5 partner and creative chairman, had this to offer: “I'd think the guys with the sharp pencils have rationalization on their minds, not maximization.”

Interesting that one of the largest agencies in this new combined company will be Leo Burnett. I looked again at Mr. Burnett’s famous speech and listened carefully, paying special attention to the part that now rings loud and clear: “When your main interest becomes a matter of size, just to be big … rather than good, hard, wonderful work … it’s time to take my name off the door.” Well, maybe they should double up on the security at 35 West Wacker Drive because Leo might be coming back to rip his name off the door and “throw every goddamn apple down the elevator shaft.”

I probably shouldn’t worry about any of this. In five years, we could all be working for OmniPubInterWPP. So I’ll leave you with this, from my correspondence with George Lois, who makes it crystal clear for all of us:

“Here's what I know: Advertising agencies depend on constant creativity to achieve growth and success. But be aware that the bigger any enterprise gets—the more departments, the more marketing research, the more acquisitions, the more mergers, the more group grope, the more analysis paralysis—the worse the product becomes: lost creative control, lost passion, lost belief that you’re producing greatness. The merger screams that technology is god, without a hint of the god-like creative process. Creativity is dead … Long live creativity.”

Emma Hancock is a founding partner of Heroes & Villains Advertising.