George Parker: everything you need to know about the ad biz

When I first set foot in the USA in 1962 after disembarking from the Queen Mary as a snot nosed student, I had been devious enough to have wangled myself an interview with the great British man of advertising, David Ogilvy (below). He was very gracious and gave me a full twenty minutes of his precious time. At the end of the session he laid his giant fuming pipe on his sixteen century oaken desk with the medieval suit of armor in the background and barked… “Never forget, advertising is all about selling.”

I next saw him twenty odd years later when I was freelancing at Ogilvy in a vain attempt to salvage the Compaq Computer account. Late one night, a bunch of us were in one of the “War Rooms” (Remember those?) drinking warm beers, eating cold pizza and doing “Blow,” when the door burst open and in walked David accompanied by a couple of “Minders.” By this time, he was stone deaf, so he shouted at us for five minutes, then as he turned to leave, he shouted even louder… “Never forget, advertising is all about selling.” Top marks for consistency.

My purpose today is to explain where we have come from, and where I believe we will end up. My premise is that the ongoing saga of the ad biz has happened in three stages over nearly seventy years, and surprisingly it has little to do with the growth of digital, social, AI, AR, clicks, likes, or any other current Mot du Jour.

Stage one was the “Creative revolution” started by DDB, New York, in the late fifties. Gone were the hammers in the head and flames in the belly creations of Rosser Reeves at Ted Bates, to be replaced by “Think Small,” “When you’re No 2 you try harder,” “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s” and other gems that people not only enjoyed, but appreciated for the fact that the creators recognised they were not stupid. Or, as David Ogilvy put it so well… “The consumer is not a moron: she is your wife.” This fortunate state of affairs lasted until the early eighties, but was gradually choked to death by the rise of the Holding Companies.

Stage two. Ah yes, the Holding Companies, or as I refer to them, the BDHC’s (Big Dumb Holding Companies.) Which like The Blob, have swallowed virtually all that appears before them, with the notable exception of Wieden+Kennedy. Readers of my blog and my odd scatological pieces for More About Advertising will know that I am less than enamored with the many ways the BDHC’s have totally screwed up what once used to be a great business.

Today, it’s all about the bottom line; unfortunately for these Titanics of the ad biz, clients are starting to realise that they have been taken for a ride in terms of hefty fees, sky high production costs, and most of all by the effectiveness of the expensive end product.

As MAA has pointed out… The outlook isn’t helped by a series of major account reviews that are threatening WPP’s hold on some of its biggest clients and will inevitably drive income down, even if WPP holds on to them. JWT and MediaCom are threatened by a global Shell review, HSBC is reviewing media globally and mega client Ford is ominously looking at how it does business. This means that the days when the Poisoned Dwarf (AKA Sir Martin Sorrell) will be able to trouser a $100 million bonus every year are coming to an end, although in the case of His Gnomeship, I am sure there is enough stashed away in the Seychelles to take care of the weekly flower bill at the Knightsbridge town house and the Gramercy Park love nest.

Which leads us to Stage three… The consultancies. Yes, these fuckers have got their act together. Attracting major clients, bringing creative in-house and delivering value that the BDHC’s can’t match. They will kill advertising as we have always known and loved it. And it will be our own fault. As David Ogilvy also said, “We should stick to our knitting.” If you look at the number of companies WPP has bought in its thirty-odd year existence, the vast majority no longer exist. And most of them were wanky purchases that soon closed down after the principals had worked out their obligatory couple of years buyout contracts.

This all overlaid with the usual veneer of ridiculous verbiage, such as this horror… WPP’s media agency holding company GroupM’s has bought Indian creative/digital agency The Glitch. Glitch co-founder Varun Duggirala said: “With our right brain core of creative strategy and content and GroupM’s vast left brain core of media, data and analytics paired with their increasing content focus we truly believe we’re completing the right mix to fuel overall exponential growth and deliver the most value to our clients.” Oh yes that’s undoubtedly worth a few of the Poisoned Dwarf’s mega millions. I have no doubt that dear old David is probably shouting, as he spins beneath the Chateau Toufou turf: “Never forget, advertising is all about selling.” You know what… The old bugger is right. It always was, and it always will be.

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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.