To Remain Relevant, Ad Agencies Must Finally Adapt to a Shifting Landscape

To Remain Relevant, Ad Agencies Must Finally Adapt to a Shifting Landscape

Every Wednesday, our weekly advertising meetings ended the same way: with a ton of food being left behind that got thrown away.

Our numbers were down, clients were jumping ship in an almost disrespectful manner and jobs were being lost but we were still ordering food that nobody, but the Director wanted.

No matter what anyone else said or did mattered because he felt that food was needed at all meetings, even if it wasted money. Keeping up appearances is not cheap.

It may seem small, but this kind of thinking, is what made me leave that company. You see, when you’re more concerned with what a situation looks like, than what it actually is, you’re begging for trouble. People were operating day-to-day as if we were floating aboard a luxury yacht when it fact we were plugging the holes of a rowboat with Kleenex.

Many advertising agencies are in the same sinking boat.

Besides personally driving me insane, the mindless adherence rules about style over substance and the “it’s always been this way” rhetoric curbed the creativity of the entire department. It also kept us from effective problem solving.

Let me give you an example.

While starting a new campaign for a European audience, I was given the green light, told to basically go nuts. I excitedly let me imagination run wild, coming up with an idea to go with more flair than our company was used to. I also happened to be one of the youngest advertisers there, which really should have been a clue.

As I sat reading the notes I received on my project, I noticed they were notes so much as corrections. What lay in my hand was the same exact thing we had been doing for years, only with different pictures.

I pushed back but was quickly told my idea would not work because people just wouldn’t respond to it. I’m still scratching my head on how that could possibly be a reason considering we had never done it. We were still applying traditional advertising practices from the 1950s to email, which, if I’m not mistaken, exploded in the 1990s thanks to Hotmail.

This is just one example of the pickle ad agencies find themselves in.

There are far too many disruptions and fragments within advertising to continue to sit around and churn out the same garbage day after day, month after month and year after year.

People don’t like advertising for a reason. We force you to pay attention to us, tell you that you’re not good enough and that we are the only ones who have the solution to the problem you never knew you had.

Sounds like it’s time for advertising to do a bit of introspection and come to terms with reality.

Creativity within the industry isn’t in short supply; it’s all around us and there is plenty to be inspired by. But it’s held back by the Director’s old rules and ego that fears change. By a company’s awards won long ago for campaigns long forgotten.

Nothing is in the way except advertising’s self-imposed, limiting beliefs that pay lip service to traditions, process and pecking order, rooted in the past of people who have only represented their thin spectrum of thought.

Never fear because creativity cannot be stifled. It’s in the space between everything we are given but refuse to accept.

Hollywood refused to change its dated formulas and misrepresentation so Netflix happened. Encyclopedia Britannica charged us for access to information and so Wikipedia took flight.

The most impactful ads don’t look like ads anymore. They play out in ice-bucket challenges to raise awareness and are most likely viewed on a phone than a television.

The past has a funny way of stifling the future. But when things change as fast as they do now, counting on what worked before to work again is a dangerous go-to move.

Advertising has to choose if it would like to be relevant in 2019. But first you have to get angry and want to create things that matter. So please, go ahead and keep making ads, but hopefully some advertisers will decide to get with the times and create culture instead.

So I ask advertisers, do you believe in more?

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