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The agency of the future, Part I

The agency of the future, Part I

The pace of change in the industry has become so fast it’s hard to know what’s next. Communicate asks regional marketers to gaze into their crystal balls, Part I.

June 7, 2009 8:53 by

“Gee, mom, this is swell for a head cold…look, I can breathe now,” says a cheery blond boy wearing a striped polo shirt, holding a bottle of Vicks Va-tro-nol. “Better still, son, it helps prevent a lot of colds if you use it soon enough,” replies his perfectly coiffed mother, looking adoringly at her son.

A print ad from 1929, a time when television was still an experimental medium, when kids used words like “swell,” and when comic-style real life situation with speech bubbles was a popular form of advertising.

There was no internet in 1929. No satellites or fibre optics. No hundreds of television channels. No digital radios. No glossy magazines. And a whole lot less scepticism. Pitch an idea like the 1929 Vicks Va-tro-nol ad today, and it’ll probably be rejected, or used to convey modern-day cool, in a cynical way. Sort of like, “Oh yeah, I see what you’re trying to do, and that’s really funny. People will love the throwback to the 20’s, and will buy the brand because we’re doing retro-cool.”

Except in 1929, they were serious about this kind of advertising. And what’s more, it worked.

There’s no avoiding the cliché; the world is a very, very different place today. Consumers have changed. Jon Wilkins, owner at Naked Communications – an independent ideas agency – explains people’s cynicism. “A classic example: if it’s an advert on television for a lovely new car, historically that lovely new car is being driven by an attractive couple along the French Alps. In reality, today if I’m thinking of buying a car, I type in the name of the car in Google, I can find hundreds of sites that will connect me to real drivers talking about the experience, I can negotiate the price of that car through a whole global network of dealers, and I can start to sort of circumvent the advertising process.”

In other words, the very nature of consumption has changed. (And yes, sadly, some of the magic of advertising has been lost along the way.)

Over the past couple of decades, the pace of change in the communications industry has been astonishing, and technology has played the key role in this development. With digital innovations keeping everyone on their toes, both consumers and advertisers are moving quickly into the future. Every change needs to be anticipated and worked around, so how are agencies moulding themselves to move forward with their target audiences?

Wilkins’ Naked agency was touted as an example of the “agency of the future” by Mark Tungate in his book Adland: A Global History of Advertising. Wilkins visited Dubai at the height of the financial crisis, when the real estate sector began to fall apart and agencies were wondering where else to go. “A lot of the agencies in Dubai are still quite old fashioned in the way they’re structured and the way they use channels,” he says. “The media agencies seem to be doing a better job than the advertising agencies, at least trying to embrace a lot of the newer channels.”

But regional advertisers disagree, however. They say they’re moving into the future their own way, with eyes fixed firmly on the evolution of the regional advertising market.

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