The Rise of The Ad Man 2.0

[I’ve written this post once already. I got to the end of it just as someone phoned me up. I picked up the phone. Fumbled it. And dropped it on my laptop which duly crashed in a spectacular fashion. The second revision is slightly shorter and hopefully more to the point…]

I watched a great documentary on BBC4 on Sunday called The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man. Presented by Peter York it featured a lot of the great ‘ad men’ of the past, and some of the present. There were loads of interesting points worth noting. But I’ve forgotten most of them now (for the next few days you can still catch the whole thing on BBC iPlayer).

The thing that stuck with me mainly was its celebration of the glory days of advertising and specifically the rise of the hot creative shops of the 60s. CDP (Collett Dickenson Pearce) was the poster child of the show and it’s success seemed to be attributed to a few things:

  1. The time was right. The swinging 60s. Post-war gloom moving into a period of rapid cultural innovation.
  2. The existence of a bunch of TV natives. People who had grown up with TV, who knew how to write for it, and to make it work for them.
  3. A media environment where you could create a phenomenon overnight by putting something on the only commercial TV channel and hitting 20m people in one go.
  4. Clients needed help.
  5. The creation of a place where cool creative people just wanted to hang out.

[Forgive me if any of this is woefully incorrect I wasn’t alive at the time and I’m basing all of this on something I saw on the Telly, which is never a good place to start]

Is ‘now’ the time right for something new?

It feels a bit like the time is right for some kind of big shift again. And judging by the fact that there’s about 5 new agencies starting every week it would appear that others do too. Most of these new shops are claiming to be some kind of new new thing.

But if you’re coming out of an agency, trying to hire people who work in other agencies (media, digital, design, whatever), the danger is that you’re going to end up with just another variant of an agency. Sure, it might have better laptops, the structure may have mutated and the working culture might be tweaked slightly. But most of these new agencies seem to be built on well understood principles with well understood types of people working for them. This might give you a temporary moment of interestingness and competitive advantage. But it’ll only take a minor manoeuvre for someone else to catch up.

So assuming that the time is right (and it might not be), what would you do to create a brand new agency, like what they did in the 60s?

Hire Digital Natives?

I’m making the assumption here that digital natives are to today what TV natives were to the 60s.

So hire some digital natives. People like me who think that digital is ‘a thing’ are old-school. We might be able to help get you through the next few years, but unless we become less in awe of a bunch of computery things we could end up making ourselves obsolete.

But right here, right now, I think we’ve got our Hovis opportunity (Hovis make bread, they also got a seminal Ridley Scott ad during the 70s). There’s still a moment when we can do the big huge magical thing before all this digital stuff just becomes ordinary, everyday and expected.

I’ll get back to the hiring thing in a bit.

The Media Environment

Once you’ve got people you’ll need to create a guiding principle that celebrated the media environment that we’re dealing with. Embrace fragmentation and change. Realise that big lumpy unpredictable niches are about as good as its going to get. Or that narrow:deep audiences can become wide:deep audiences very quickly and with tiny media costs.

I’m not sure exactly what that principle is, but it’s the equivalent of knowing that a break in Coronation Street is your playground – then making the right stuff. (Hell if I knew the answer to this I’d be a very valuable and important man).

I loved this from the programme:

I doubt that this would be said by many people nowadays (especially not in the online space).

Clients Needing Help

The show documented the huge improvements that have been made to the marketing function within client organisations. Leading to a suggestion that in lots of places the marketing function is so sophisticated that they’re constantly butting heads with the agency – I can’t believe this could be true ;-).

In the ‘glory days’ it seemed like the agencies who were producing great work were almost unquestionable.

If you’re trying to launch a killer agency right now. Where do you think clients need most help? Where can you command a position of unquestioned god-like genius? On my list marketing and advertising wouldn’t be at the top.

Creating the Place

And now for the big one: creating the place where the cool guys come to hang out and do whatever it is they do.

I don’t think this is about environment it’s about a culture of possibilities and the other people they’re going to have as company/inspiration. And paying people properly – if you want to attract the best people you’re going to have to shell out. As someone in the BBC4 show quoted, CDP knew that if they paid peanuts they’d get monkeys.

In the 60s it was the best artists, writers, film-makers and suchlike who were the people you wanted in your gang. But who are the people you’d want nowadays? Here’s my list:

Entrepreneurs: You’ll be wanting the new Sergey and Larry. Of course. We all would. It’s about finding the people who just want to get stuff done quickly. People that make things happen. And who have a passion for things that they’re making / selling. There’s a big difference between business people and entrepreneurs. At least in my humble experience.

Geeks / Inventors / Designers: I’ll probably get shot for bunching these people together. But for these purposes I am putting them together. It’s the people who conceive of brilliant things. The ones who invent the widget. Or the new way of making something more usable, or more beautiful, or work faster or better. But specifically it’s about finding the ones who don’t have self-imposed limits. The ones who believe that anything is possible.

Super producers: Oh yeah. The people who know how to get things done. The people with the address book you’d kill for. Give them a thing to make or a bridge to build and they’ll know the people to make it happen. And have them on team in a couple of days. I think there’s about 26 of these people in the world (at last count).

Online content creators: People who make things. People who can’t help making things. The ones who are just be out there making videos, or music, or poems, or doodles. People who understand how to create a moment. A piece of online cultural history.

Cyber anthropologists: I didn’t really know what to call these people. They’re the people who have an ungodly fascination with what’s going on ‘out there’ the ones who are living real online lives, and watching and interrogating other people too. So they wouldn’t just be commenting on online dating, they’d be out there getting hooked up. And I’d be particularly looking for the ones who are trying to understand what it all means from a psychological and sociological point of view.

Uber bloggers: Of course I’m just sucking up to bloggers here so that they all link to this post and say nice things ;-) But seriously if you’re a certain type of blogger you know certain types of things that not many other people do. You understand how content and conversation work together. You understand how things get transmitted around the blogosphere. In short you understand some very important things about today’s media landscape.

As I went through this list I sort of sense checked it by seeing if I could put names next to all of these roles. And I could. So they’re not fantasy people. They really do exist.

Then once you’ve got a great place to work and assembled that rag-tag bunch of mistfits you’ll need some hardcore project managers and business people to be able to sell the shit out of the nonsense they’ll come up with.

I forgot. It might be expensive. And it might not work. But if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be worth bothering.

Anything or anyone else you’d chuck in for good measure?

38 thoughts on “The Rise of The Ad Man 2.0”

  1. Great post. Definitely makes me want to learn how to make web type things.

    Kind of tangential to the bit about the bloggers, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not blogging is going to be a fleeting format that will be quickly supplanted by the “next” technology that comes along, or if the ease of both production and consumption will keep it around for the long haul. I guess maybe focusing on the technology used to transmit the ideas isn’t really the point.

  2. Enjoyed reading your post, good stuff. I also watched Rise of the Ad Man, and I started pondering along the same lines.

    However, one thought I had is that in terms of the next big thing and the people equipped to make that jump, that in actual fact, it may be that the real power is held by the ‘Geeks / Inventors / Designers’ who are already part of the digital revolution, as it could be fair to say that they have now become the ‘Entrepreneurs’, the ‘Super producers’, the ‘Online content creators’ as well as the ‘Uberbloggers’… It would seem that the advancement of technology and online services now enable and empower that group of people to take full control to lead the next big thing.

    But where will that lead?

    If I am part of that group, then it can only lead to chaos!


  3. I saw that same programme. It really captured a point in time that I can (just about) remember when culture (and TV) ‘went colour’. Big old fashioned corps just couldn’t afford to be left behind. Now the world has ‘gone networked’ but I’m not sure we’ve seen the really huge social change to go along with it. Yet.

  4. I agree it is time for something new and the part about “hire digital natives” is spot on. You have potentially missed one set of people – those who understand how to use data creatively to target, personalize and build a dialogue (marketing with memory) without infringing rights and making it feel like Big Brother.

    I am also frustrated at clients. Whilst the IAB predict online spend (c65% search) will overtake TV spend in 2009 – client budgets do not reflect this. Further there is a lot of crap talked about “planned” integration, actually it is more likely to be due to serendipity. I would like to see clients act like entrepreneurs and dedicate 10-20% of their marketing budgets to “digital, integrated, weird, wacky, etc” initiatives to understand what works and what the subsequent new model of marketing might be.

  5. I think you need Ad men 2.0 working in a place called Ad Agency 2.0. I have no idea what that agency is, or what it’s called (and I don’t work there), but I suspect most of the people would be called strategists instead of copywriter, media buyer, account executive. Because in the 1.0 days, these titles helped. Now, I think they hurt because people who might solve the problem aren’t invited into the room.

  6. “Hire digital natives”. Good advice, but we’re in short supply – for now. Luckily this crazy digital thing is getting into the blood stream of the generation coming up.

    I’ve been saying “digital isn’t a channel, it’s a mindset”. Analog folks think once things are set, that’s the end of it. Digital folks know the bits are only as they are for a moment. They can always be rearranged for something else.

  7. Great post. I like your concept. The only thing I would add is a Consumer Evangelist, someone who thrives on connecting with consumers and delivering to them exactly what they want/need.

  8. This is really interesting, but I must tell you that Crispin Porter + Bogusky have all the qualities you were talking about vis-a-via creative hotshops. Their work is outstanding, crative to the maximun , hence a 7 Cannes Grand Prix this decade (well, since 2000).

  9. Sunny Boy – I totally agree with you. I think you’d likely find most of those people in that place. Certainly they’re incredibly entrepreneurial, their planners are anthropologists, they seem to have super producers, and so on…

  10. I nearly wet myself in agreement when I read the ‘hire digital natives bit.’ As part of the newly come of age digital generation or ‘screenagers’ as Douglas Rushkoff put it, I feel an ease and fluency with not just the online world but how it spills into, interacts and transforms the real.

    I wish there were more people pushing the digital native agenda at the last agency I worked at. As far as I could tell there were no moves made to use the abundant resource of young natives beyond the role(s) they had come to the agency to. I.e. if you were a junior copywriter you’d be hard pressed to have your ideas about insight, content, interaction etc heard beyond what immediately concerned copy.

    Listen to the natives’ advice less you end up like ignorant settlers digging yourselves a digital grave whilst carelessly consuming all the resources around you.

  11. Iain, I love it – I love it all – entrepreneurs, inventors, superproducers, content creators – making things, inventing things, making money on projects without clients, ethnographers, being paid for being interesting – fluid structures. A bohemian mix of genius and madness. It’s brilliant. It’s the agency we all aspire to create. It’s what we’d like LOVE to become.

    If only there were enough clients (with money to pay our wages) who understood what the f*&! we were talking about….;-(

  12. I’d say this you’ve just describe the past 10 years of the web! What about all those guys in their garages inventing Facebook, Google, Youtube, Wikipedia. The thing to avoid now is going mainstream as that’s where the digital agencies live – grabbed by the balls of above the line and marketing departments.

    The heroes are still all out there, freelancers working at night from their bedrooms the inventors the techheads the gamers. Just don’t put them in a room together – let them be free to create and invent.

  13. This is very interesting as I’m helping start up a new marketing-design hybrid here in NYC and our recruitment list has followed this one pretty damn closely.

    We have geek designers/programmers, a super producer, entrepreneurs (the guy who started it all + the managers we’ve hired) and a blogger/cyber-antrhopologist hybrid (which is me).

    Still no content producers yet, though.

    We’re finding its a great combination.

  14. I might get this tattooed on a pig and send it to my guvnor. Great stuff.

  15. Really timely to read this today, just as I’d finished reading today’s Campaign, ruminating on the newly launched ‘new model agency’ Analogfolk – on the one hand, we’ve got clients saying (if the latest TNS / Cymfony survey is to be believed) ‘we’re fed up of working with agencies who don’t get the new rules of engagement, we need digital natives’, and on the other we’ve got letters in campaign going ‘hmm great so there’s a new kind of agency with digital at the heart of it, but are clients really ready for an agency like this’…..

    I’d like to think that clients are ready for the digital natives, and hope I can come along for the ride!

  16. This might sound boring, but i’d probably lob a good old fashioned media planner into this uber melting pot of an agency, so there is someone around who can talk the cost per 1000 game as well.

    It might just be that the creative solution involves a bit of trad media selection too.

    Makes no sense to seperate the roles of media planner and comms planner, particulary in a world where the media quite often defines the creative . As Stephen King presciently observed all those years ago (although he was talking about ‘advertising’ we can take this to mean ‘communications’ in the broad sense), ” the planning of media and advertisements is virtually the same job” (1969). Nice.

  17. And what about account/client services? They are the face of the agency and by far its most important group. You futurists out there are going to have your mind blown when you find out clients don’t want to sit around and talk about bulldogs on skateboards and chavs spray painting airplanes.

  18. Nice post Taits. I’m not so sure it’s a new model, though:

    Entrepreneurs: Account Directors/Managing Director
    Geeks / Inventors / Designers: The Creatives
    Super producers: er.. Producers
    Online content creators: The Studio
    Cyber anthropologists: The Planners

    Looks suspiciously like the recipe for the usual Ad Agency start up.

  19. You also forgot the most important thing, the name.

    How can you possibly come up with a name that adequately gets across the boiling pit of creativity that will fuel this world changing start up?

    Perhaps you can take another leaf out of the old school ad agency book and use your own wonderful surnames, with a few initials thrown in for good measure..

    WTF Beech Roope Hostler sounds pretty good to me.

  20. Cracking post, most excellently put.

    Not sure if you saw that BBC4 prog last night on David Ogilvy – fascinating insight into how Madison Ave was transformed into the television age by a bloke who had previously been everything from an Amish farmer to a salesman…

    And quality musical entertainment on the muxtape. Lullaby and 7 ways to love. Chooooooooon!

    Time to press the “subscribe” to your blog, sir.

  21. Small point, but would you mind putting your ‘sense check’ names against each role? I’m starting the agency of the future in couple a weeks and need to save on the recruiters fees. You’d be doing them a favor on the wages side, and could get a kick back from both ends.

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