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.

36 comments
Three_Ships_Media
Three_Ships_Media

"Advertising and marketing have never been so much fun" is such a true statement. Working at a digital marketing agency has been one of the most rewarding career choices I've made. From content creation to lead generation, there is always something different to learn. Social media is always changing and that makes it exciting when branding a company isn't cookie-cutter. It's requires strategy and creativity. http://bit.ly/cAGj1W

rebrivved
rebrivved

Adapt or die. That's my motto. In the mid 90s I was at Team One writing for Lexus. We were doing award winning traditional work. But my clients were resting on their laurels, refusing to embrace interactive. So I moved to San Francisco where I spent five years riding the dot com roller coaster at agencies big and small, including Riney and AKQA. Talk about creative. We did things that had never been done. A few years back, I found myself at a small Boston agency that was slow to "get" social (in fact, they let Scott Monty slip through their fingers). So I made a beeline for a digital shop with a social focus: Digital Influence Group. At DIG, I'm more than a writer and ACD. I'm also part content strategist, part social marketing strategist and experience design advocate. So yes, large agencies can have processes that can slow them down. But small agencies can also have their blind spots. As a creative, if I allow their issues to stunt my growth, shame on me.

bryanfuhr
bryanfuhr

Great posting, Edward.

I enjoyed the counterpoint to what seems like a late-to-the-party story from@adage.

There's an assumption in your posting that work isn't only meant to be fun, it's also meant to be fulfilling. Who trades in a senior-level agency job for a start-up, new venture, or new group expecting fun? More likely they expect blood, sweat and tears. But they're tremendously fulfilling if you like that sort of thing.

I wonder how the story might have been received with a simple word change: from fun to fulfilling. What do you think?

JeffShattuck
JeffShattuck

Loved this post. I've read through all the comments, which are equally great, but one notion on one seems to be discussing is creative destruction, which is what I think is happening to advertising. In other words, it's being wrecked by both internal and external factors to make way for something new. All I can say is IT'S ABOUT TIME. Criminy, advertising has been locked into this insane belief that recreating the same thing over and over and over again is somehow the height of creativity. It's not. Don't get me wrong, it's creative, to be sure, but not as creative as doing something fundamentally new. Change is good!

justLaurence
justLaurence

This may be an oversimplification (or I might just not be that smart), but I see the good old days consisting in agencies as 'content creators' and media as 'delivery platform owners'. The agency's job was less complex -- though really creative agencies could use the media platforms in new and interesting ways -- or bypass them altogether. Now agencies can create the platforms as well as the content, the platforms can even be the content, and the complexity has increased as a result. I totally embrace that complexity because it's new and interesting. No, it's not easy to do the work when you can barely define the structures anymore, but it's an amazing challenge and the reward is equally amazing when you get to come up with totally new solutions to old problems.

KeithStoeckeler
KeithStoeckeler

I think you nailed it Edward with your comment about how those respected individuals who have been in the business for a while need to embrace this wave of new/fresh/youth ideas and not be afraid of looking like the rookie. It's a change, certainly from the position they have known, and it might take a while to fully understand, but it's the way things are headed and one needs to embrace it as it's the means of connection.

Check the ego at the door and roll up your sleeves. Asking questions isn't a sign a weakness.

I applaud what you have done both personally and with Mullen, to just flat out "figure it out" and not be scared of failure, for you learn so much more when you fail.

SeattleDesigner
SeattleDesigner

I see a parallel between the "Golden-Age of advertising" ala MadMen, the new age of social media. Back in the 60's products strived to involve the "fans" of certain products. Remember the days when contests involved product loyalty or involvement like recipe or jingle competitions (product crowd-sourcing) rather than just the random lottery type contests anyone can enter that are today's norm? Or the collecting of Green-Stamps that encouraged shopping or getting gas at a certain venue for collective rewards? (will this be the direction for FourSquare?)

The new (now) "Platinum Age" of social media advertising is spreading branding in a a similar kind of way as I see it. Advertising itself is cycling again to smaller more innovative shops like the earlier days of the ad & pr agency, rather than behemoth ad "corporations" that have controlled a majority of ad media in the last few decades. Perhaps the "Big Agency" just can't change course quickly enough simply by the nature of the huge corporate machinery that drives them. The new more independent shop is creating and experimenting new ways to connect, and is lithe enough to negotiate the twisty, windy road that leads ahead. More innovative ideas that take new risks, invite conversation, partnership, loyalty, and will direct the relationship between product and consumer to a richer relationship for both.

I think the new advertising paradigm is a playground that invites everyone to join in. What could be more fun?

jenajean
jenajean

Thank you as always for a thought-provoking post, Edward!

I agree that many agency executives are stubborn and resistant to change, and frankly, they won't survive. But I also think just as many were probably so focused on the job at hand that they didn't even see the social revolution until it was thrust upon them. So now, they're faced with the very real fear they've been left behind and the automatic perception by younger workers that they're no longer relevant. And perhaps that's true to some extent.

However, I've also noticed a lot of chatter across the social sphere lately on what defines an apt Social Media Director. And it seems that having a solid grasp of management, marketing, public relations, customer service, financial profitability - and so on - is vital to understanding how to best leverage social tools to achieve an overall business strategy (i.e. the sort of depth in knowledge that comes with solid time spent understanding the business and industry).

That said, perhaps there's real value in reaching out to, embracing and educating "older" creatives and agency executives who are ready and willing to learn.

GrahamNelson
GrahamNelson

I see a ton of similarities between the agency world and politics these days. Humor me.

The business is a different place from what it used to be. As is the political landscape. In both marketing and politics, there is a group of folks driven by fear: fear of change, fear of technology, fear of the unknown. And there is another group who is embracing that change: testing new models, embracing success, and learning from failure.

But as mentioned in your post, the core constituencies don’t want the “same old.” Clients want their agencies – just as citizens want their politicians – to talk to them on their terms. New terms. So evolve (read: re-invent) or become irrelevant.

Instead of identifying those who have opted out, I’d prefer to celebrate and learn from those who are hanging in, listening to their constituencies and trying new things.

<Note that this message was not sponsored or approved by any political party.>

mikeharari
mikeharari

At first, I felt disheartened to hear about this "creative exodus." These were the people responsible for the iconic images and tag lines I grew up loving. I'm not someone who just came to love advertising; I grew up enjoying ads.

As a college graduate, entering the job market isn't easy. And neither is staying ahead of the curve, embracing new technology and media, and finding a way to really change the advertising landscape. Every medium has a potential to be embraced in a campaign; it's implementation is where creativity lives. Old Spice used its beloved commercial to really engage with its consumers via personal responses on YouTube. If that doesn't signal a creative time in the industry, than what does?

We've seen flash mobs, augmented reality, and customer service take form on Twitter. As agencies and advertisers adapt to the changing times, the fact still remains: brands need to engage with the audience. The goal hasn't changed. There is no better time to be in the industry. You never know what new, innovative tactic will be used and created next. Advertising has been known to create the next, new "thing" and it should continue to do so. Even if it means we losing these creatives.

AdHack
AdHack

Thanks for putting some good 'big picture' thoughts around the sensational headlines, Edward.

Seems like we're finally seeing the advantages of big organizations are losing their hold on talented people. Many smarter folks than me have written about this -- Seth Godin, John Hagel, Umair Haque -- but seeing it in practice still feels surprising since we've grown so used to thinking that bigger = better.

Small, lean, fast and flexible is in and for good reason. The technology to connect, form groups and organize resources just erases so many of the advantages of being big.

And people want to connect and work with other great people -- whether client, bosses, peers or collaborators. The extras just seem so much fattier now that we can do without them.

As an example, we now run a creative agency of 1000+ people in 21 countries with a full time team of 2 and 3 contractors. V & S and a ton of other shops do similar. Even the big new Co: follows a similar model of many small pieces, loosely joined and called into action when needed.

If this isn't fun then I don't know what is.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

The sad thing is, you can still have fun by mixing both.

We worked with a client last year, and combined a TV/cinema slot with a very cool Facebook connect feature online. Basically, the web version of the ad allowed you to sign in with Facebook, and your face would then be on the news reports, etc, that were on the TV/cinema version.

The campaign won an award earlier this year, and was praised for mixing the mediums.

The folks leaving the industry? Maybe more to do with bosses that don't want to change as opposed to folks that want to create. Possibly. ;-)

jkretch
jkretch moderator

I'll be honest, I can hardly blame them all for leaving. The business is a different place from what they're used to, and very different from what they signed up for 20 years ago. Not everyone is able to grasp, nor are the expected to actually enjoy the new agency reality.

Although I never made it into the rarified agency atmosphere, I left the industry because I felt the same way. The ad business had become much less about creation and more about checking off boxes. I hated feeling that way. So again, I can hardly blame them, and actually sympathize with their reasons for jumping into startups. It's the opportunity to create on a massive scale, and keep creating, un-encumbered by the new agency reality.