Advertising and marketing have never been so much fun

AdAge has a cover story this week about the exodus of creative talent from the big agencies. Apparently it’s just not fun. Too many meetings, process, budgets, staffing issues. Shit, creative people just want to make stuff. And in big, fat agencies process gets in the way of doing things.

Perhaps. But it’s also true that in a lot of these agencies the things that people historically have made were TV spots, campaigns and messages. Executions over which a few people could exercise complete control. Concepts that had a beginning, middle and end. Along with a media plan that also adhered to a start and stop date. You came up with an idea. Then you sold it, produced it, ran it, entered it, and moved on.

If that’s your idea of fun, then obviously you’re not having any. This is the age of Pepsi Refresh, Ford Fiesta Movement, Burberry’s never ending content stream and brands like OK Cupid doing it themselves.

But some of us are actually having a lot of fun doing things other than TV spots. We’re re-inventing the old model. Experimenting with crowdsourcing. Building things that have utility. Mastering augmented reality. Leveraging social media and communities. Learning new tactics. Working with digital creatives. Trying out the emerging platforms. Figuring out how to be inventive with geo-based, mobile technology. And, yes, making videos.

Read the comments underneath the AdAge piece and you’re reminded that all marketing these days is about ongoing conversation, interaction, and ways to include the reader/customer/prospect. (Even if some of the comments lament the end of the good old days.) Great ideas and storytelling remain essential but they’re but one aspect of creativity in the post digital, neo-social, me-focused age of connectivity.

Consider the challenges that most clients bring to agencies. They’re looking for new ways to involve customers in product development. Striving to leverage their employees in the manner of Best Buy. Hoping to influence with new content; some of which they create, some of which they inspire others to create. They’re interested in leveraging third-party apps and platforms or building Grateful Dead-like loyalty programs. Even dreaming of an eco-system that actually allows prospects to enter via doors that could be labeled search, discover, learn, connect, share or transact.

Smart marketers know that somewhere between product experience, community participation, social responsibility, gaming dynamics, and crowdsourcing is the new thirty-second TV commercial.

And they’re challenging their agencies to figure out better ways to combine content, UX, social media, utility, mobile and new opt-in retail applications into something coherent, measurable and even predictable.

Solving that problem is definitely more complicated than making a TV commercial. It calls for a new set of skills, a lot more meetings, or at least a familiarity with new digital collaboration tools. But it still calls for creativity. And it can even be fun.

Big agencies stuck in old processes and production models can’t adjust. I’ve attended enough seminars and spoken at enough conferences to know that many are struggling to figure it out. But whether they do or not remains to be seen. I can only imagine how miserable it must be to work in a place that knows how to do one thing and have that one thing less in demand than it’s ever been.

The smaller, more interesting shops however — especially alternative or digital agencies – are having a blast. We’re finding inspiration from outside our industry. Learning to think like Ideo, watching the tactics of companies like Undercurrent, even trying our own versions of what Ty Montague has recently formalized with Co.

Ad Age paints a bleak picture of the business. But they’ve chosen to focus on people who are leaving places that can’t or won’t embrace real change. However, look into some of the newer, smaller, more nimble agencies, where digital and social thinking reign, and you not only see plenty of creativity, you find an industry that’s more fun than it’s ever been.