About a decade ago, the industry had a good think about what it was for and made a decision. It decided that numbers mattered more than anything else. Strategy was king, algorithms were the future, and data collection, compilation and profiling were where it was at.
You want graphs? We got ‘em. Great big ones with animations and sound effects like “Plib!”. You want ads that follow people around the internet like a sex pest outside a changing room? Done! You want data profiling that in a just a few years will cause a massive privacy and civil rights problem for the industry globally? Not a problem, citizen 5545567#8.
The mistake that the industry bigwigs made, was that they forgot what they sold. They forgot creativity. They forgot the idea, and the execution.
And because the industry didn’t value these things, the clients stopped valuing them. The creative became the thing plonked on top of the strategy. It became the thin smear of crap that went atop the mountain of data.
The creative became a simple execution of the strategic direction, of boxes ticked and demographics hit, and the execution, god help us, became an irritation.
And now those massive chickens of schadenfreude have come home to roost.
There are platforms springing up that offer data. And with that data, they offer huge stock libraries. And with those stock libraries, they offer algorithms. And with those algorithms, they offer adverts as good as the ad industry now make, at the click of a button.
And they do your media buy.
And they’re getting better, and faster, and easier.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘sure that impacts you stuck out in your dinky agency in the sticks, but it doesn’t impact us on the cutting edge with our big clients and large budgets’.
In response I’ll say only this. Go watch TV. I know you don’t normally, none of us do. But go do it anyway. And when the big brand ads come on for fancy cars, fitness equipment etc, play stock library bingo. How many of the pieces of stock do you recognise. How many have you used yourself in ads or pitches yourself?
I know you’re expecting a call to arms here. A “if we just give the creatives more money and a fancier coffee machine, we’ll take back the future” sort of sign off.
But I think the problem is no longer us. We created change. We changed the way clients thought of what we actually produced. They don’t think it matters any more. You promised them ‘x’ many eyeballs. They couldn’t give a shit what the eyeballs are looking at anymore.
The next few years will tell us if the industry has a future. I suspect many of our brightest and best will go and make content. They’ll design packaging. They’ll leave the industry altogether.
And the machines will take over. And the client won’t need a large agency structure just to press a button. They’ll get Dave the inhouse stock specialist to press the button for £20,000 a year.
What we do next could have an impact. But it’s going to involve mea culpas and a whole lot of hard work. Convenience food almost killed good food producers. It took the slow food movement to bring them back. Let’s hope somewhere there’s someone thinking about the slow advertising revolution before microwave ads, ready in seconds, ruin us all.