The future of advertising agencies: learnings from Forrester

Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, James Walter Thompson: ad agencies have been around a long time

It remains the topic du jour.  We talk about it from every conceivable angle: the future of advertising; the future of advertising agencies; the impact of digital on advertising; the new consumer-control; even the death of MadMen.

But when Forrester talks about it people listen.

A few months ago I participated in Sean Corcoran’s research on where it’s all going. The Forrester analyst interviewed more than 60 agency leaders, clients and media in pursuit of the answer.

Well last night, at a MITX-sponosored event here in Boston, he debuted some of this findings, all of which Forrester will eventually turn into advice for both agencies and marketers as they continue to navigate the turbulence brought on by digital technology, the social web and changing consumer behavior.

Here are some of the findings from Sean’s presentation, due out in final form in a couple of weeks. Anything in italics is my take or conclusion. In the next week or so I’ll develop additional thoughts and share examples of what people are doing and or struggling with in light of his observations.

It is a new world defined by technology and consumer control

  • Consumers today have a complex relationship with media: it poses challenges as to how and where to engage with them
  • Despite Edelman’s recent findings, Forrester insists that consumers trust consumers more than they trust brands: it means we need to mobilize fans and followers to evangelize on our behalf
  • The Groundswell has gone mainstream: the consumer is now a creator/sharer/distributor; learn to harness and inspire that
  • WOM reigns again: your content and the experiences you create must stimulate it
  • 3.5 billion brand conversations happen every day, all of them in public: time to master the art of listening

Consumers hate most advertising

  • Only 5 % agree with advertising claims: start being honest and authentic
  • 50 % say brands don’t live up to advertising promises: really, start being honest and authentic
  • 67 % complain there is too much advertising: forget messages, create experiences and conversation

Adaptive marketing is the new model

  • Everything is powered by digital: hire digital, think digital, learn digital or die
  • Real time response, as in political advertising, is the future of marketing: monitor social media regularly and get everyone a Flipcam
  • It’s all about pull not push: the formula is SEO plus value equal traffic
  • Addressability is here: you should be thinking versioning, customization, options
  • Intelligence and analytics will drive everything: make it part of your strategy before and after creative development

Media needs to combine paid, owned and earned

  • Paid: for scale and reach and speed: social can’t do everything, reach, scale and speed come from paid
  • Owned: for content, relationships, listening and co-creation: open source opportunities are everywhere so create great content, utility and apps
  • Earned: social, WOM, PR, bloggers, influencers: paid can’t do everything; you need a social and conversation strategy, not simply a presence on Facebook

Successful agencies will move well beyond campaigns

  • Build campaigns PLUS platforms:  you need both, Nike-plus without a brand behind has no plus
  • Stop thinking in terms of audience and think about a community of participants:  a brand’s consumers may be your best creative resource, or at least your best medium
  • Undo unbundling: unbundled won’t work anymore: agencies need to find ways to integrate; become curators; and  learn co-creation, curation, and crowdsourcing
  • Embrace and master new technologies quickly:  you are working on the re-invention of print ads on the iPad, right?

Clients will look for three things

  • Ideas:  note this does not mean messages or ads
  • Interaction:  engagement, connection, community, media
  • Intelligence, as in you need to collect, report, analyze and predict: if you don’t have robust analytics, you’re in big trouble

Sean has other findings and conclusions, but I’ll leave it to him to package, reveal and explain. Suffice it to say, this is what’s been released as of last night.

Finally, the photo above (stole the idea from Sean who talked about the history of agencies as well) is a reminder that this is an old business. Agencies have been around for a long time.  They have adapted from being agents who sold, to owners of the brand, to creators of the big idea, to specialists in advertising, DR, CRM, PR, design and digital.  It’s time to adapt again.  And quickly.



  1. […] In February, Forrester Research released a study about the future of advertising. Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer at Mullen, blogged about the report. According to Forrester, consumers trust consumers more than they trust brands, and 50 percent say that brands don’t live up to their promises. (The future of advertising agencies) […]