Ad agencies will change in 2021 – but then they always do

Much speculation about how ad agencies will change in 2021 as the big holding companies try to change their offer and agency staff wonder what they’ll be asked to do (assuming they still have a job.)

WPP’s Mark Read appears to be betting on a massive ecommerce business, merging Geometry into VMLY&R, for example, to create VMLY&R Commerce. His rivals will no doubt adapt accordingly as the massive boost to online sales from the pandemic puts down deeper roots.

New Commercial Arts, the hot agency from adam&eve founders James Murphy and David Golding says its mission is: “Uniting brand and customer creativity, to make brands more desirable and easier to buy.” Brand and customer is an interesting distinction; what it seems to mean is creativity all the way through the dreaded customer journey (dreaded because so many remain aggravating marathons despite the ministrations of agencies.)

Others predict that agency managers are in for yet another cull as all-rounders who actually do things take over. That seems fair enough. Also that the divide twixt creative (or whichever category we put ecommerce into) and media will disappear. Too often the divide seems like a pointless turf war but getting rid of it is easier said than done. Media agencies, because they spend the money, still seem top of clients’ to-do lists. Sanofi, ViacomCBS and JP Morgan Chase have been shuffling their media agency deckchairs as 2020 draws to a close (Omnicom and WPP seem to have done best.)

Sooner or late one of the big holding companies will bite the bullet a merge a creative agency with a media agency – back to the future if you like. Havas is perhaps the nearest to such a model.

Agencies will adapt though – they’ve been rightly compared to indefatigable cockroaches – because advertising (whatever form it takes) continues to grow like topsy. Tech giants invest billions on old-style broadcast brand advertising even as many traditional advertisers cut back in their efforts to be more like – tech giants.

Short term the outlook is grim as the pandemic refuses to release its hold. Vaccines, not necessarily the current crop, will probably master it in the end and then we’ll see what really has changed as growth returns. Growth means that advertisers reach out to the weapons at hand without worrying too much if they’re supposedly out of date or digital enough.

Happy New Year.

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