Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What is left of Advertising?

“There will be fat years, and there will be lean years, but it is going to rain.” - Don Draper – Mad Men, Season three, Out of Town

What Is Happening To Advertising?

Ever since we entered the advertising world we have witnessed multiple waves of change and challenges, but somehow, this industry has managed to preserve its economic and social purpose.     

Advertising as a function has probably started with the early human societies, but it has only taken a formal description and a clear role as a profession during the last century. Since then, advertising was affected by different trends and movements yet it has evolved and adapted to different situations and innovations till the present time.

This is not meant to be a historical overview of advertising, but based on personal experience and some examples; change and challenges never seem to be the end of the line for advertising but just the sign and the trigger of a new era that brings a new approach and fresh thinking.   

In the 1980s and 1990s it was the expansion era for the multinationals that has gradually brought all the global advertising brand names to almost every market. That was a huge phase of change but the end result was a significant development of the industry in terms of tools, systems, knowhow, and exposure.

The arrival of the Media Buying Units (MBUs) at the dawn of 21st century brought another painful transformation for the ad agencies as it took from them their main source of income to put it under specialized “partner companies”.

Around 2005, we knew another wave of specialized companies that took another bite from the traditional advertising pie. We meant the branding companies, design houses and other specialized brand consultancies.

These are not the only events that influenced advertising over the past 25 years. The industry was always affected by all the economic, social and political events globally and on a regional level.    

The latest wave of change was triggered by the global and massive development of digital communication in its various forms (online, social & mobile). This trend has led to the creation of a new breed of specialized communication services and agencies.

However, this is going to be just another phase of the brand communication saga. New services and technologies will keep arriving and will reorganize the relationship between brand owners and communication specialists. New innovations will always create new services and new types of communication agencies and at the same time, it will make some older services less needed.

The continuous development and democratization of digital tools will eventually offer advertisers more control over their communication activities and budgets.

What Is Lost Of Advertising?

With every wave, the advertising industry has lost important elements and gained some other assets; but above all it has proven that it has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve.

Over the years advertising has lost important sources of income whether by relinquishing certain services to specialized companies or by losing the old comfortable compensation models and adopting more competitive and tight formula.  

Besides the financial question, advertising has lost a lot of its initial “mystique” and influence over clients and brands partly because of the creation of a plethora of consulting services often overlapping with the advertising expertise.

At the same level, advertising as a profession, has also lost much of its “cool factor” that for many decades has attracted the best talent to the industry – and sometimes the worst elements.

A lot of valuable assets were lost over the past three decades mainly because the industry does not have a coherent strategy in place to confront consecutive movements that threaten its existence.

What Is Left Of Advertising?

At this stage of the game, it's going to be, once more, up to the advertising and communication players to sort out what are the most viable options and mainly what makes them most valuable in the eyes of their clients and partners.

The various waves of change have deeply transformed how advertising and communication services are created and delivered but it did not affect the core role of this industry and its main contribution to the business community and to the economy and society at large. Technology and delivery channels will keep changing but the “core role” of communication continues to be relevant and in-demand.

If we take out all the tools, the techniques and the vehicles of communication that are subject to change, what practically will be left of the advertising business?

What is left is the talent and expertise in generating ideas and delivering them in compelling and attractive ways regardless of the production technique or the media channel that will be used.

Once we redefine the role of advertising as “the business of generating communication ideas” we will see threats and opportunities in a totally different light and we will be much more confident and enthusiastic about the future of the industry.

Technology, systems, and media channels with keep changing; but at the same time, Ideas will remain necessary for business and for the development of brands.

Ideas can move people, push sales, drive markets, and change the whole economy.

Ideas can build brands, connect consumers, and transcend cultures to create a shared understanding and a better way of life at a global level.

As long as Advertising will be able to generate unique and compelling ideas it will be able to defy time and change to stay relevant for today and tomorrow.

Jean-Claude Saade

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