George Parker: Andrew Essex on The End of Advertising

At the time I started to write this review, the world’s third largest holding company, Publicis, announced that they would not be entering anything in next year’s Cannes “Festival of Creativity,” nor indeed in any other awards show. The world’s biggest holding company, WPP, quickly came on board as Sir Martin Sorrell said at a Financial Times event in Cannes that the festival had became a money-making exercise and “has got to be rethought big time.”

According to Andrew Essex (a founding partner of Droga5) in his new book The End of Advertising it would seem that the whole ad biz has to be rethought big time. Kudos to that. Even as far back as 1963 in his book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” on the very last page David Ogilvy said… “Advertising should not be abolished, but it must be reformed.”

Andrew lays out some very well structured arguments why this is still the case. Sticking with the Cannes “Festival of Whatever” meme, a couple of years ago, Jeff Goodby wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal explaining that this Cannes Festival would be his last.

For a guy who has won more awards, sat on more juries, and even chaired them, than anybody still standing upright, this is a jaw dropping declaration. But one that I wholeheartedly agree with.

To find out why, read the whole piece. Here’s a taster: “Nowadays, it is more like a plumbers’ or industrial roofing convention, after which I go home and begin to explain to a friend that there is an amazing new fiberglass insulation technology that will enable us to cost-effectively sheathe surfaces exposed to the sun and make them blah blah blah.. can I get you another drink?”

As Andrew points out, the ad biz is rapidly being taken over by “Consultants” rather than agency people. (So, no more booze for you!) These will offer advertisers the benefits of big data, digital, social, VR, AI and whatever else is the current flavor of the month. A few years ago J. Walter Thompson declared that it was no longer an ad agency, but would from now on be a cultural anthropologist. That didn’t last long.

However, enough of me, or as the French would put it… Je souffle ma propre trumpette. Back to Andrew’s book… Please stop beating the crap out of ad-blocking apps… It’s worse than that. You can’t have a conversation with someone when you interrupt them in the middle of what they are watching or listening to… It’s rude, it’s annoying, and it’s going to get them very annoyed. Just do better stuff… Or as dear old David said before they buried him below the turf of Chateau Toufou… “Stick to your knitting!” By the way, David was never a “Sir,” apparently, the Duke of Edinburgh hated him… Figure that one out? Nice one Andrew… Highly recommended.

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.

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    George,
    The consultants are not at all understood by the agency world, and their capabilities are under-estimated. It’s not about them bringing “big data, digital, social, VR, AI and whatever else is the current flavor of the month.” It’s not about “they’re only analytical and not at all creative like ad agencies.”
    I spent 4 years as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group and 11 years as a Director of Bain & Company (where I ran the Munich, Paris and London offices), and, later, another 25 years consulting to ad agencies and their clients as Farmer & Company. I wrote a book about it.
    The consultants are 100% dedicated to helping their clients figure out how to get brands growing again — and how to make the brands more profitable. The consultants will do a lot of analysis to develop the strategic plans, and then they will deploy the agencies they bought to do the marketing communications work.
    The concept is simple: strategy, then implementation. The consultants do the strategy; their ad agencies do the implementation.
    By contrast, what do standalone agencies do? What do they say they’re “all about?” Improved client results? Not at all. Instead, “we’re creative. We win awards. We develop Big Ideas.”
    This narcissistic agency focus — what I call “the creative business” — is a failing business, characterized by declining fees, short-term relationships, downsizings, low salaries, poor morale, lack of client respect, and …. most of all …. a failure to deliver improved results for clients. The creative business is vulnerable to competitors who focus on delivering improved results.
    Cannes reinforces “the creative business.” Arthur Sadoun is wise to walk away from this — how else to refocus Publicis Groupe on what clients really need?
    Consultants long ago figured out that their high fees are sustainable when their work delivers improved results.
    Agencies should look long and hard at what the consultants really do. Agencies have more to learn from the growing management consulting business than the consultants have to learn from the shrinking agency business.

    Michael Farmer
    Author, Madison Avenue Manslaughter