The Collapse Of The Traditional Brand Agency

Why the Traditional Agency Model Is Struggling to Keep Up With Demand (adweek.com)

The great lamentation for the traditional brand agency goes on, as a fixture of the American economy and culture for 150 years, an industry that in the latter half of the 20th century was a global beacon of growth and prosperity.  What happened?

“Traditional agencies and holding companies like WPP are built around solidified structure and a foundation of the siloed legacy model. They are designed for long term client partnerships and marketing plans that often stretch over years. The steady stream of income this provides is essential to their operation.”

I began my career in advertising in the 21st century, but my career in technology began  in the 20th century, for which I am grateful. Technology to me is something much more than writing code or creating gadgets. It is about the endless pursuit of pursuit. Which, when you think about it, is the driving force behind the new “world” economy…and it is new and it is global. How do I know? I personally participated in watching that pursuit to make things smaller, faster, more accurate, more cool, more…whatever. The 20th century was all about certainty, dependability and security…emphasis on security. That’s what it was all about, large independent companies hiring thousands, putting them to work doing useful to fuel the global economy with a never ending supply of consumers to consume all those products being made by the large, independent companies. It was a simple formula and it worked marvelously for awhile. The 20th century was truly the time of “milk and honey”. 

Ironically, it has been technology that has brought all that to an end. Impoverishing some and enriching others. 

Since “technology” is no one particular “thing”, it is hard to pin down exactly what it is. It’s not like a natural resource like diamonds or oil, measured by both its usefulness and quantity.  There’s no scarcity of technology, but is it useful? But when it is useful it is VERY useful and very valuable. But there is a broad gap between the technologies that succeed and those that fail. How do we bridge the ever expanding gap. For that matter “successful’ has taken on a whole new meaning itself.  But I’ll get into that in another article. In the meantime, I can only suggest one simple thing. Be “creative”. Which, of course, “creative” agencies are supposed to be good at. But if only it were that easy.  

My early days in large brand agencies..as a “techie”.. was odd to say the least. Accounts and Creative never quite understood their “techie” brothers, looking at them across the way wondering if they should feed them or just leave them pecking around the benches looking for pieces of bread. Which is understandable. That huge gulf between the tech haves and have nots is there for a reason. Technology is hard. It takes a lot of curiosity, perseverance and stubbornness to write the simplest programs. Seriously. All you hard core developers know exactly what I mean. To anyone out there, I dare you to sit down at the computer, go to youtube or google “simple programming tutorial”, take your pick of any number of listings, text or video, and go to it. Stick it out all the way through until you have some kind of working application, whatever that may be. Then tell me if it  was in any way “easy”. That’s all I’m asking. Try it, seriously, you will see what I mean. 

Now that’s just the scale of you and me. Multiply that by 1000 and you will see the reason for the collapse of the  traditional brand agency. I don’t know if many of those account people or creatives have or will suffer through the boundless frustration of tackling  even the simplest program. Not that they’re lazy or stupid or unmotivated. Programming is not a hard thing to do because you’re not smart. It’s hard to do because we are human. I hate programming. I hate it with a passion! I’ve been programming since high school. I hated it just as much then.  I’ve always hated it. Why? Because code is just programming logic to a machine. I like to think I’m a highly creative human, very imaginative and, of course, very clever. And every time I write a line of code that comes back “error”, “problem”, “sorry not going to work” I want to scream at the vicious beast for thwarting my brilliance at every turn. 

But eventually I get through. It always takes hours, days or weeks. It’s never a “snap”. Never has been, never will be. But that’s the point. That’s the way ALL agencies, traditional or not, have to look at their business. The 20th century ad agency was about creating ideas and bringing them to life  with video, images and text. The 21st century ad agency has to do the same thing, only in javascript, html and css. If they can’t make THAT transition, then their time simply has come and gone, like horse buggy manufacturers. It’s that simple.

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