Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There's only one thing that can save advertising. Us.

Ad people. You. Me. Everyone in this industry. Thinkers, doers, leaders, followers, planners, suits, creatives, producers, management, operations, everyone.

Every day, we're dying a little. Our twin (media) was separated from us (though we were inseparable from birth, or so we thought) and the cost of that is a huge lost for both of us. On top of that, the linear process of collective problem-solving in the agency was disrupted because deadlines are always yesterday, launches are always in two weeks, which means everyone has to work in tandem. We have to hypothesize the problem, think of solutions even before it is well-defined, plans must be put into place at breakneck speed because costings need to be accurate (and low) and worse, researches have become a crutch for support rather than illuminating things we never knew (what paradox, we keep wanting to know what we already know...). Day in, day out and we run around like ants with giant cynics stepping on us, spluttering poison: Advertising is a sunset industry! We hear that every day, yet the people who could do something, never did anything to stop the margin from closing in. Advertising will die, if it doesn't evolve. Of course. Anything would.

But we can stop this.

We can reverse the wheels and spin it away from dooms day. First and foremost, we don't need anymore 'brand' workshops as an industry effort to tell clients how important branding is. We should be telling them why it is imperative for advertising to work as the mediator between the brand and consumers. Why are we flying in the biggest marketing personalities and paying them obscene amount to talk about something that we all already know? No one denies the importance of the emotional bond that's absent from commodities. But what clients need to know is 1) advertising is by far still the most important middle person in the equation (with the current technological revolution, how we advertise may be the more important question to ask but the fact still doesn't change), 2) what happens when you stop advertising and start discounting (over a 5 year trend) and 3) what happens when you cut off the creative expertise and start advertising on your own (let's see how far your brand sustains once you stop advertising - 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?).

These questions cannot be answered in forums nor workshops. These are questions that will make or break our industry and change the course of it forever. They need to be backed by facts. Sales trends, brand indices, ADEX, market shares, attitudinal changes - hard data tracked consistently every year, no stopping of these trackers as long as the market still exist. We need an independent body that would be the R&D of our industry, smart people who chew on data before they sleep and spit out scary facts for marketers in the morning. This body undertakes all studies, complex or not, with regards to brands and the relationship between them and advertising. The findings will not only make us better ad people, but it should also stop the attrition of trust clients have for agencies.

This is not an urban advertising legend. It's been done before, in the UK, using toilet rolls as a benchmark study. The result showed how brand A prevailed because they sustained their branding efforts through communication and how brand B got eaten up alive by house brands because they stopped advertising and started using tactical sales promotion as a long-term strategy. Big mistake. In theory, everyone knows this. But trust me. When you see those neon lines in funky charts plunging up and down over the course of 10 years, it's a different sensation altogether.

Assuming we have been consistently and studiously tracking what happens to lazy brands that don't communicate, and clients decide to advertise again. The next focus should be how are they going to advertise? Listen to the media agency? Or turn to the advertising agency? I'm telling you, we should have never been separated at all. I mean Media and us. But then again, like any modern love story, about how a couple got separated only to realize it was stupid and they need each other again. I think that will happen (hopefully). We need the channel experts, they need the human insights and creative expertise. The only duplication I see are the suits (well, good luck, may the best men win). Well, even the suits need to specialize eventually. As channels become saturated, we need people who are producers in specialized fields (even the term 'digital' is no longer considered specialized). If you're a suit and you don't have one now, you better find your sweet spot if you still wanna stick around. But anyway, seriously. I wish we could be together again and live happily ever after. It's okay to have made that separation mistake but it's never too late to make up. I do seriously believe, once media and agency come back together, we could create a new hybrid discipline that we couldn't before. This 3rd value will be higher than both values of media and creative agency combined.

Of course, there are many more areas which we could beef up in order to not 'fossilize' our industry. But first, we must show some hard evidence on the value agencies are bringing to the table for brands. No more fancy afternoon tea with black-tied people. We just need some thought leaders and funding to make sure that we've got strategic researches and long-term trackers in place which allows us to plan ahead, make sensible predictions to spur innovations creating an even more fertile ground only to be continuously broken by great ideas.

Advertising is a sunset industry only if we allow it to be.

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