When it comes to self-criticism, advertising tends to be an industry that loves exaggeration, speculation and especially self-flagellation. We beat ourselves up – or tolerate being berated by others — on a pretty regular basis. Among the many predictions we’ve endured in recent years: The end of advertising as we know it; Agencies just don’t get it; The Chaos Scenario; and most recently Fast Company’s Mayhem on Madison Avenue.
The latter, which hit the newsstands last week (though appeared in digital form 10 days earlier) basically suggested that all those dinosaurs who’ve been bringing you the :30 TV spot stand somewhere between too slow to evolve and the edge of extinction. (Note that Mullen was included among those who’ve transformed themselves enough to count as evolved.)
This week, however, we have a very different story. Playing the contrarian, Bloomberg Businessweek suggests that the “lumbering advertising behemoths have advantages over smaller, cutting-edge firms.”
Writer Felix Gillette, after his obligatory references to MadMen, multiple-martini lunches and expense account dinners at Nobu (can’t have an ad agency article without recallying all of that cliche’d imagery for the thousandth time) eventually gets around to disputing the claim that the big, dumb agencies are dead. Instead he insists that the big, dumb agencies are actually kicking the butts of all the little digital shops with funny names. (That would be Big Spaceship, Blue Barracuda, glueisobar, et. al.)
The poster boy for the article is BBDO NA’s chairman and CCO David Lubars. Throughout a long career, Lubars has produced great advertising work: from his early days in Providence when we ran the Keds business, to an LA stint on Apple, to his time at Fallon where he launched the seminal BMW Films.
So maybe he’s not only entitled but correct when he claims in the Bloomberg story that the little hot shops, who are thumping their chests and declaring the end of mass marketing and the death of the Big Dumb Agencies, do so as a business posture, an attitude for journalists, and a sales pitch to clients. “They don’t believe a word of it,” he says.
Lubars goes on to talk about all the digital work being done at BBDO while the agency still manages to win best Superbowl spot.
One thing both Fast Company and Bloomberg do agree on is that we are in the midst of turbulent times. Digital shops strive to develop better creative ideas. Giant ad agencies throw money at technical talent in order to compete with the funny-named agencies. And no less than Google, Apple and Facebook, along with a slew of hybrids — from the likes of PSFK to multiple new retail platforms – all have their own opinions of where the industry is going.
So who’s right? Fast Company? Or Bloomberg? Will the big agencies adapt fast enough and prevail? Or will the smaller, more nimble digital shops with UX and engagement in their DNA win out in the long run.
Hard to say. One thing is certain, however. Given the fact that no other industry in the world seems to inspire more discussion, debate and analysis as the advertising industry, we can be certain the conversation isn’t over. Like the Energizer bunny, it keeps going and going.