19th January 2016

The modern advertising agency. Art or science?

Extracted from the original post on LinkedIn by Steve Price, Chief Creative Officer

When I was young lad, starting out in the industry, advertising seemed like an exotic and enticing other world. Where everyone had shoulder pads and drove BMW 3 Series Convertibles or Porsche 911s or Golf GTIs. The highest profile agencies created work approaching high art and stole headlines by making audacious bids to buy high street banks. This was the eighties and was truly a different time.

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Advertising agency. Many in the industry now see it as an old hackneyed term. Inaccurate and out-of-date in these times of ‘divergence’ and ‘disruption’. We may well need to have a ‘media-neutral’ and ‘channel-agnostic’ viewpoint (vomits) but as our industry starts to look more and more like a science, I believe the term ‘advertising agency’ still has a place.

It shouldn't be lost on anyone that the category 'Advertising Agency' is one of the few default options offered to creative businesses for listing on Google.

Advertising agencies are the original ‘disruptors’. They’ve been doing it for decades. Shifting perceptions and creating economies where they previously never existed. In among the new vanguard of Dare, Poke and Sapient Nitro, 'old money’ advertising names like Ogilvy, AMV and BBH continue to blaze trails.

So what defines a modern advertising agency?Well, we’re all so distracted these days, I’m not sure most people could even answer that. But if we looked up from our devices to look around for a second, we might notice that our industry is at breaking point.

Well, we’re all so distracted these days, I’m not sure most people could even answer that. But if we looked up from our devices to look around for a second, we might notice that our industry is at breaking point.

Maybe that's how we like it. Maybe that's how we best operate. On the edge of panic.

We struggle every day to make a difference when, if we’re really honest with ourselves, the traditional model of how the industry is structured just doesn’t function in the new now.

Our industry has become very complicated. A seemingly endless stream of new channels and verticals seem to get in the way of the good old fashioned property of the good idea.

First digital or ‘new media’ as it was (remember that?) then ‘social’ and now every new device that happens along is a ‘game changer’ and needs expert management and mollycoddling. Information became ‘content’ and being creative with data has been deemed as important as devising the messages we broadcast to our audiences.

As modern advertising agencies, technology binds together everything we do but everything we do, regardless of output, should still begin with advertising sensibility at its core. There's a million and one buzz-phrases out there for it. My personal favourite is Maurice Saatchi's 'Brutal simplicity of thought'. A credo to live by in these or any times.

Maybe we’ve lost sight of this somewhat in the clamour to push notifications and drive likes and engender positive sentiment. Immediate, infinitely measurable, investment justified.

Short-term thought now seems to rule along with measurement, measurement, measurement. Now, I love a good stat but what happened to going with your gut and just taking a punt? Not as easy to take a gamble in the new now.

The fact is that the modern advertising agency needs to be all these things and be ready to exploit what’s down the line that hasn’t even happened yet. Like advertising agencies always do.

Always-on is what we are. No more little white dot after News at Ten, no. But as we chase likes, shares and open rates in real-time, in among the hubris and the chaos and to-do lists, I hope we can still find the time to slow down. To plan. To look.

But as we chase likes, shares and open rates in real-time, in among the hubris and the chaos and to-do lists, I hope we can still find the time to slow down. To plan. To look to the future. There are advertising agencies there, I’m sure. Full of artists and scientists. Arguing.



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