The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

When Something New Is Really Something Old, But With A New Name …
March 5, 2008, 7:22 am
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Back To The Future

Despite having many dodgy habits, Mr Dodds does write a rather excellent blog and one post in particular [about experiential marketing] recently got me thinking.

You see whilst this area of marketing/communications is currently one of the ‘buzz words’ of the industry – with many organisations treating it like the 2nd coming of Christ – I have quite an alternate view to the discipline.

My view is that ‘experiential marketing’ is one of the earliest forms of marketing, not one of the newest.

Sure, what many companies now do with experiential marketing is cutting edge interms of building/forging brand connections with existing/potential consumers – however for me it still originates from a time where town markets were the local shopping centre and traders had to be experts in passer-by engagement to ensure they created a sales opportunity.

I know by that reckoning, I’m saying Town Criers were the RSS News Readers of their day – but it’s just systematic of an industry trying desperately to reinvent itself and yet continually failing to let go of the past.

town crier

As many of you know, last week I spoke at the World Effies and what bothered me was that I came across so many ‘executives’ who were openly advocating the ‘good ol’ ways and days’ of advertising.

OK, so there are many elements of the past that are still relevant and important – but to openly celebrate 1950’s process’ for communication is somewhat alarming given we’re in the year two thousand and fucking eight!

Actually I do a disservice to that era of advertising because as I said in my presentation, they were far more inventive than many agencies are today – which is why I believe the industry is actually devolving and choosing to ignore the signs because they don’t want to damage their carefully maintained illusion of self-importance .

Of course not every person/agency is in this situation – infact given more and more big, global business is being given to agencies like WK and Crispin it’s actually an exciting time to be a part of the industry – however if you’re working in a conservative multi-national agency, I believe it won’t be too long before you are faced with a fundamental decision about your career: do you want to make things happen or simply execute someone else’s ideas.

I should point out this division between ‘old and new’ [or should I say passive/active] thinking has nothing to do with age – it’s totally about mindset – which is why I’m sure that in 10 years time, the same conferences will have the same people spouting the same debates about “How do we get paid for our ideas” whereas everyone else will either be yawning or getting on with it.

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Great post. Spooky in fact because I’ve been using the market analogy for years and even the town crier is something I posted about back here:

To be fair their will probably be a segment of people who will always prefer passive content-involvement over engagment. Faris referred to them as the passive massive and its estimated they will be sizable for another 10 years according to an economist report. Quantitative prediction being a crock of shit and all that.

As for the issue you raise between network versus independant I think you may be right although it does cut both ways with large business crushing small agencies with sheer volume of work. I think it was Russell who said to me that W&K have a history in Portland of growing on large account wins and then settling back on the Nike stuff with whom they have an undeniably special relationship.

Then again I may be completely wrong as CPB winning the Microsoft business says to me that their advertising will change profoundly.

Great post and I agree Doddsy does bash out some really good stuff.

Comment by Charles Frith

grudgingly i like this post. i cant say anymore as i feel ill.

Comment by andy@cynic

actually i can.

im with charles regarding big networks not being sidelined to just execution of others ideas.

not just because they can handle greater volumes of work that the smaller shops but these massive organisations are totally shareprice driven so if they and the market continue to see opportunities go to agencies like crispin, wk, droga5 etc, then they will be forced to act either through aquisition or general talent improvement.

i think this is possibly the most positive and productive thing to happen to our industry in ages because it is bringing the importance of great creative thinking and execution right back into focus.

fuck, if we can dance with the devil and not sell out (literally and metaphorically) then theres a fuckload cleverer and more successful agencies out there who can do the same or better.

theres stuff going on with us at the moment that could be part of the future but as id have my balls beaten black and blue if i so much as uttered a fucking word, ill just say that rob wrote a post ages ago asking what would happen if mckinseys bought mother and i reckon were going to see quite a few left field mergers and aquisitions in the future creating agency networks that could threaten the comfy life of the passive multinationals unless they start to change and i dont mean just by throwing more money about.

microsoft with crispin, coke + nike + nokia with wk, fosters with droga5, naked with photon – the tide is turning and everyone can feel it so now the next move is in the hands of the majors and anyone who underestimates their ability to see it and react to it is fucking stupid.

its interesting times and i think the power could be momentarily back in the hands of the creative class.

Comment by andy@cynic

Nice one Andy. And speaking of getting the creative back into advertising. Has anyone noticed ‘debagte’ that is bubbling with Millward Brown and Link Testing. WPP might even put some money into it if they had some balls.

Comment by Charles Frith

Both fantastic points and it’s so nice to see Andy stop his blog ‘persona’ for a moment and show people why I have stuck by him for years, ha!

Charles I agree I was a bit too generalistic in stating you’re either going to be in an agency that makes things happen or simply executes them because that’s obviously not going to be the case across the board [especially when you consider Andy’s point about how the multinationals are quick to learn and react to situations which could undermine their financial performance – a great point] however I do believe the power-of-influence will be in the hands of those organisations who demonstrate a more ‘active’ approach to communication rather than those who simply cling onto the ‘establishment’.

That doesn’t mean modern thinking agencies are turning their backs on things like TV/Print etc – of course not – it’s just they don’t believe that is the only approach to achieving client goals.

[And the real forward thinkers don’t believe the internet is the ‘be-all’ as a communication channel. Don’t get me wrong, the net is amazing and still underutilised by most – however it should not be used as an excuse for not doing more pragmatic actions that fundamentally address clients issues. Saying that, it has helped bring the importance of creativity back into the minds of clients so it should never be overly criticised 🙂 ]

Whether this will continue to be the case for decades is in the hands of the clients who are causing this shift [plus how the multinationals respond to the ‘creative dimension’] – however I can’t help but feel in some cases, the decisions are being driven by personal ego and ‘excitement association’ because at the end of the day most of them are still embracing the traditional methods of communication because its easier to manage and sell through their organisation.

[Look at what WK are doing for Nokia and Coke – sure they’re great ads but they’re still just ads]

As for the passive massive [great term!] – I think that’s always been the case – however I also believe that if you find something that is important to them, they will act however that’s needs agencies and planners to look at cultural issues, not just category ones – a theme I’ve been banging on about for years.

I like the debate this post is causing – hell, when Andy responds properly, you know it’s worth talking about 🙂

Comment by Robert

Good points Andy, who’d of thought.

I have no issue with companies who choose their agency on the basis it helps them look more interesting/driven to their competition, where it goes wrong is when they refuse to embrace new approaches to old problems because they are slaves to an outdated, ineffective and formulaic internal system.

Having experienced this situation with both KCA and Coke, you should relate to this more than most Robert.

While we are seeing bigger and bigger organisations seeking out smaller and smaller agencies to help develop their creative strategies and executions, I predict this trend will only be around until the holding companies are forced (by market pressure) to use their influence and money to gain back control.

This is not all bleak news because the changes required by the big 3 (to be creatively competitive again) are fairly substantial so in time the gulf in quality between major and minor agencies could be smaller, which has to be good news for consumers, clients and creative thinking as a whole.

If this situation somehow plays out as I have just indicated, then it will be interesting to see what agencies will have to “offer” to achieve success with major clients. Will “hunger to achieve” be a desirable attribute or will the promise of “easy process/delivery” win out again?

Of course it could be something entirely different but I believe simplicity of delivery will become motivating for many clients (it already is for many companies today) which means ultimately we’ll be back to the same situation we see today. Back to the future indeed Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

What is going on?

Andy writes a sensible comment.
Lee writes more than one line.
Had I found the blog Da Vinci code????

I don’t know if your prediction will come true Lee, but if it does it’ll be interesting to see how smaller agencies reinvent themselves to stay competitive/viable given you believe that the situation today will ultimately manifest itself into a smaller divide [at least creatively speaking] between “major and minor” agencies.

Of course creativity is subjective so who knows what that means in real terms – but it’ll be interesting to watch/be part of – though once the Empire has ‘struck back’ and resorted to type, I guess everything will return to as it is now and I’ll be able to be angry once again 🙂

Fuck I hope you’re wrong Lee, I don’t want 10-20 years of me being ‘happy’ or ‘nice’, haha!

Comment by Rob

is it just me, or does anyone else find it ironic that it’s the big multinationals beginning to equalise the power of the advertising industry?

Comment by lauren

They’re not Lauren – it’s more a case that they might have to act to equalise the creative balance [ie: dramatically raise their game] if the current trend of giving big business to smaller, more creative independents carries on because their share price [the thing they are governed by] will suffer because they are missing out on more and more revenue [existing and potential]


Comment by Rob

it’s the “current trend of giving big business to small, more creative independents” bit that i find interesting. surely in the ‘good old days’, microsoft would just say to mccanns that they were starting to miss out and wanted work the same as what crispins were doing for mini, so mccanns would poach the fuck out of crispins (or absorb them, ahem) to work on the microsoft account. now, microsoft seem to have the guts to actually hire the smaller, independent agencies. which means that The Big 5 model of absorb and conquer isn’t quite as successful as it used to be and that’s been brought about by companies who love the old absorb and conquer model. maybe

Comment by lauren

Advertising was never meant to mean ‘above the line’ – it was meant to mean marketing communications.
Just reading that Stephen King book and remembering nothing is really new.And I still think focusing on take-out is the best way to decide what, where and how to proceed.

Comment by northern

And to think the stuff I “bash out” (thank you Charles) on my little blog could inspire such intelligent debate – you’ve all done very well.

Comment by John

Thank you Teacher John …

And I agree with you Northern, advertising was never meant to be split by ATL/BTL, but by the same token, media wasn’t supposed to be split from creative and branding wasn’t supposed to be split from planning [etc etc] and yet in many cases it has because the networks have seen how they can make even more cash even if the end product is less powerful and intergrated.

And they wonder why clients don’t like them much!

Oh and Lauren – let me tell you the big shops are still poaching talent from smaller companies – it’s just that some people are choosing to say ‘no’ which as a result is causing some clients to reconsider who they work with because the people they admire aren’t available at the places where – if truth be told – they’d feel more comfortable.

Comment by Robert

It’s all marketing to me.

Comment by John

“Simplicity of delivery” is an intriguing thought. As an outsider, it seems to me the multinationals often seek to encapsulate that in some in-house concept or claims of buying power where more agile agencies (as in any other industry) realise that it’s all about direct personal contact, reduced hierarchies and fewer committees.

Comment by John

I wonder if some execs have been watching Mad Men and wishing for the good ol days?

Client diversification can only be a good thing. It forces the big agencies to evolve and act differently; whereas before they would just absorb and carry on as normal.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

is the problem not people instead of size?

the big 5 were not born this way, they became it.

the Boston Celtic won 13 championships in a row, were the biggest team of their era, but with shrewd personel changes they maintained success/hunger.

The small agencies should form a co-op to try to gain shareholder power in one of the majors, and then change the game from the inside out.
(perhaps a bit farfetched, but still….)

Roccafella did it for Def Jam
Death Row/Aftermath/ did it for Interscope

Lansky/Luciano did it for LCN

Polygran did it for the major studio’s in usa (kinda, indirectly)

Arsene Wenger did it for Arsenal

Sundance did it for indi flicks

Best time to knock off a giant is when he is sleeping…

Comment by niko

That’s a good idea Niko …

Saying that, whilst there is no ‘official’ alliance across smaller agencies, there is an unwritten rule that states you will always promote eachother when an opportunity presents itself that you cannot accomodate. It doesn’t always work – and there is major room for improvement – but the desire is far more prevelant than in many ‘one-stop-shops’ that spout intergration but are anything but.

Thinking about it, there was a guy I know who was talking about doing this sort of thing [he did something similar in the late 80’s which was incredibly successful initially but ultimately too ahead of it’s time] so who knows, you might see it happen – the issue is always money and control – which is why for it to work, it needs a management committee separate from the organisations involved – though that in itself will raise even more issues.

And John you’re not an outsider. I know you like to think you are – but advertising and marketing are inherently linked [and should be even more closely alligned if you ask me] so don’t hide behind the illusion of naivity because you’re anything but.

You’ve been told haven’t you …

Comment by Robert

Advertising is a sub-set of marketing. Now you’ve been told.

Comment by John

You would say that wouldn’t you!

Comment by Rob

That was a big debate at Uni John.

One theory was that marketing(small m), advertising and PR are all parallel but overlapping under the header of Marketing (big M).

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Isn’t marketing a subset of deception?

Comment by Billy Whizz

Aren’t tattoos a subset of…….

and Rob M – it isn’t debateable.

Comment by John

Aye it is. Words change meaning over the years and are therefore rarely fixed for ever.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Then the definitions are wrong.

1) Marketing is not a department and it’s certainly not just promotion. It’s a customer-centric attitude (and I’d argue the raison d’etre of any organisation).

2) Being a subset of marketing doesn’t imply advertising or PR or sales are inferior practices.

3) For any of those not to be a subset of marketing would require someone to point to an example in which the goal is at odds with marketing goals.

Comment by John

And if anyone dares to start spouting post modern relativism, there’ll be trouble.

Comment by John

But surely Marketing is a subset of Promotion. Which is a subset of Sales.


Comment by Rob Mortimer

i’ll start spouting modern relativism, thank you very much ‘cos without subscribing to it, marketing, advertising, PR and communications (and art) would be fucked.

having said that, i’m inclined to agree with you john, but don’t really care all that much.

Comment by lauren

Your lukewarm endorsement is noted Lauren. And I agree with you.

Comment by John

If it’s the raison d’etre of organizations, I really hope that there is no heaven for businesses, just a state of (un)grace where they have to relive their own plans and thinking….perpetualy

Guillotine, please…

Comment by niko

To clarify niko

The raison d’etre of any organsiation is meeting customer needs and marketing (as it should be understood) is everything involved in that (starting at product developement and workingall the way throgh to post sales experience).

Comment by John

I know, and agree

my comment was aimed at myself in third person, as I just spend two days having to play nice to a senior whom I told off earlier because he thinks marketing is about making “funny stuff on youtube “.

I need a punching bag in my office asap..would spare me making a fool of myself online…haha

Comment by niko

this is like listening to a colleague tell you all about their “totally weird” dream in coma inducing detail.

Comment by andy@cynic

Andy – is all of advertising like this?

Comment by John

all fucking life is like this

Comment by andy@cynic

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