How will Advertising Evolve?
Over the last few years I’ve flitted in and out of the advertising industry with various levels of love and frustration. This has occurred for various reasons. For the most part however, it’s been caused because I don’t feel the advertising industry is as innovative at it makes itself out to be. It suffers from the same, slow to act affliction, that affects other industries it claims to aid. This post is just a few thoughts I’ve had as to why the industry is behind, and how it could potentially innovate.
1. Graduates moving to the tech industry.
I recently spoke at an event for graduates looking to get into advertising. The speaking line up consisted of creatives, but also several people who had transitioned from ad land to the tech world. We tried to explain without being too offensive, why tech offers so many more opportunities to talented creatives.
Firstly, for a graduate looking to enter advertising, you’re increasingly asked to come up with digital ideas that cater to worldly problems. Unlike a print execution or TV commercial, which has little to no value as a standalone idea. A good digital idea, if executed, could be worth millions. A student portfolio is now less an exhibition of witty lines and clever visuals, as it is a collection of business ideas. Business ideas that if done well, should also be accompanied with a 360 campaign for making it happen.
So what does that mean?
I’ve recently been helping two friends who were previously junior ad creatives. After being increasingly frustrated by advertising they decided to jump ship and start their own company using one of the many ideas they put into their portfolio. The idea is called Nattr, which is now an app for helping people come up with responses via text. It’s received £200,000 in capital during its first round with more to come. Compare how these two individuals are now the bosses of a popular application, with a team of people and great advisors working to help make their idea awesome. Along with the added bonus of life experience growing a business and an outside shot at becoming a millionaire overnight. Compared to the hours of brain frying effort put into selling terrible products, for a miniscule wage. All while in competition with other teams looking to make sure your ideas die, before it even reaches a client. Who, generally doesn’t have the foggiest what a good idea is anyway. That is the choice facing talented creatives today. For many graduates who are leaving university and contemplating their options, I doubt it will take them long to work this out, and I think the advertising industry will lose a significant amount of talent because of it.
Note* Even if the creatives were not to create the idea for themselves but simply just to go and work in a thriving tech company, they could expect to earn significantly more, in a much more balanced environment.
2. Ideas need to be stored
Great advertising people always believe there is another idea. If the idea dies for whatever reason, that is okay because they can come up with another one. I believe this as well. I also believe ideas have tremendous value and should not be wasted where possible.
In the agencies I’ve worked in, I have never had to wait long before creatives talk to me about the great ideas they’ve had that never got created. They blue-tac them around their desk to remind themselves that they are capable of good work, and that it’s always the clients fault for not making it happen.
So what happens to these ideas?
The truth is most of them are forgotten. Yet if stored, these ideas often can be reused or repurposed. I know I’ve taken ideas that I created elsewhere and reshaped them for another brief, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Yet more ideas get lost than reused.
In some industries, such as engineering, there is a universal language. No matter where you send an engineering schematic, it can be understood and executed. Advertising does not have this. The way ideas are presented varies hugely. Sometimes it’s spoken, other times via a scamp, or a deck. It’s my belief, that if it was structured, it could be stored and potentially reused on other clients. If an agencies resource is ideas, it’s strikes me as strange that they’re happy to let so many end up in the bin, literally.
I know that many creatives who prescribe to the wild creative stereotype, would see the act of presenting ideas in a structured way to be inhibiting at first. But I feel they would soon change their mind when a good idea that died for another client, is three months later reused to great effect. It would give creatives hope that their good ideas are valued and that the company wants to make them happen.
3. Outsourcing Creativity
People have ideas every day. Even my dad, who’s cultural influence consists of hundreds of hours of back to back episodes of garbage hunters, calls me up now and then with ideas he’s had for some random product like Snickers chocolate bars for example. He tells me them down the phone as if I can magically make them happen. I personally can’t, but big agencies can.
The reason he thinks I can magically make them happen is because a few years ago I tried to pitch an idea to Coke directly, but I hit a corporate wall. I approached Graham Fink of Ogilvy instead. I went to Graham because the year before he’d got Jonathan Mak to create the Coke hands, which went on to win every award going. I therefore knew he was open to ideas, and the idea, while not quite as successful, went on to be made and win a Clio.
The fact that Graham Fink, a D&AD president, responsible for hundreds of ideas, now has these two ideas that he sourced outside his own creative department, responsible for some huge award wins, as pride of place on his portfolio. Should have given adland the idea that great ideas can come from somewhere other than the creatives on the payroll. And yet I see very little agencies looking to outsiders for ideas. The closest they get is throwing thousands of pounds at influencers to promote products, which isn’t really the answer.
Again, coming back to my universal presentation concept, if you had a system such as that in place, it wouldn’t be too hard to open up a template to the public. Ideas submitted, if used, could earn a significant sum of money. Not the pittens offered by crowd sourced sites currently. If you requested a particular level of depth to be included in the submission of an idea, then a template that has to be filled in completely for the idea to become valid would sort that problem out. It would also allow smaller creative agencies, (who wish to work on bigger clients but don’t have the resources to do so) to work with larger agencies, They provide the ideas, then the big agencies go on to execute. If agencies don’t start to embrace this way of thinking, I think many clients will. And those that are capable of cultivating a strong audience will use their super fans to come up with ideas for the brand, cutting out agencies all together.
As I mentioned in the first section, the working hours in advertising can, at times, be overwhelming to say the least. In that environment it’s hard to carve out time to understand the greater sphere of what is going on in the world. Technology on the other hand, is not waiting around. Technological developments happen at an incredible rate, and it’s often in the early days that new technologies can be exploited to their greatest effect. From my observations, this is not a priority of agencies.
Agencies will try and counter this by suggesting that they have strategy and tech departments specifically for this reason. But again, from my own experiences, if these people are in the know of how to exploit these new technologies, they are certainly not telling anyone else. That is something I’ve always had to work out for myself and it takes time. Time I did not have when I worked in advertising.
The simple answer, is research and play. Agencies need to have a department that is dedicated to trying out new services and products. Specifically with the intention of working out how the technology can be used to greatest effect. This information needs to then be shared, and creatives given the opportunity to experiment and tinker with new services and hardware.
5. Idea MVP
In the tech world there is a methodology called the lean start up model. Or Bootstrapping. It outlines a process for validating business ideas before investing significant budget to making the idea happen. In advertising, it’s the opposite.
Have an idea, spend a fortune creating it, and then hope it works.
This is completely illogical. There is no reason why a creative agency can’t dry run ideas. The advertising industry has a huge hatred of focus groups, and I understand why. Consumers, for the most part, don’t look at the world in the way we do. They see it in the context of what is now, not what could be. Or they say they will do or pay for something and then don’t. But unlike a focus group, the web doesn’t talk back, it just decides. If your idea is liked, it spreads, if it’s not, it doesn’t. Using the web as a way to split test multiple ideas takes personal preference out the question. You can use preference to get several ideas to a point, and then let the audience decide before putting significant money behind an idea.
Which of these two battery ad ideas I came up with is better?
6. Researching Clients
Years ago I pitched an idea to Nick Bailey, the then ECD at AKQA. I was interning at AKQA and while I was there it occurred to me that I spent a significant amount of my time researching the clients I was working on. This took hours of my time. Digging through the archives, finding some work but not all of it. Trying to discover what their past and present strategies are etc.
The idea I presented was called ‘ad annal’ and it consisted of a database of timelines of the marketing and advertising clients have done over the years since their founding. The idea was simple, when working on a global client such as Coke, Nike, Samsung etc… It wasn’t ever just one person working on that client, it would often be maybe 6 -10 people within the agency. All wasting huge amounts of time trying to research the client prior to having ideas. And not only was it multiple people, it’s multiple agencies. Global clients have different markets, they might have one agency for England and another for Brazil for example. I felt a database of global clients with a concise timeline of their marketing efforts would save hundreds of hours of time for every project. Meaning that creatives could get to the important part of idea generating quicker, and then onto the next job. Agencies could take on additional clients and the whole process would be much smoother.
Nick liked the idea, and a few months later he offered me a job at Isobar where he’s now the CEO. But I still don’t understand why this hasn’t been done (it has but really badly in the early 90s). If I was in control of a huge agency, I would try and automate all of the processes that take up significant amounts of time, that inhibit what is ultimately the desired result… great ideas. Even if an agency was to do this, they could then sell the same resources to other agencies and would make back the initial cost plus some, in no time at all.
The idea of teams is old and out dated. In the 1960’s when the main methods of communication were TV and Print, it made sense. Now, it doesn’t. If companies are adamant about keeping people together then there should at least be a technical role in that group.
However, there is no reason why creatives can’t be teamed up project-by-project dependant on their respective strengths. I also feel that the world is a lot smaller than it used to be, and people have very different ideas of what they want their life to become. It’s typical for agencies to loose one third of their staff in any given year. This is a sign of the times, people move around and change career. They go and try something new for a while, and if it doesn’t work out, bring back new experiences.
If this is the case, then why does the industry still promote a system that intrinsically links success to another individual. The partnership, in so many cases, was only ever created for the sake of getting a job in the first place. I see this as illogical. Give people an opportunity to succeed on their own. Use the skillsets of the whole creative department to build a galvanised team with a sense of collective mission. Leave the competitiveness for being the best company with the best work, not just the best team.
This is just a few thoughts that popped into my mind today. I’m sure there are plenty more ways the advertising industry could be improved and I’d be keen to get your opinion. If you have any ideas. Drop me a comment below and I will definitely reply.