Is the universe expanding; will Jacob Zuma see out a full second term; will Bafana Bafana see the inside of a World Cup final in our lifetime; what is the future of advertising? These are all big questions that occupy our minds. And whether to choose a garden salad over slap chips at lunch or say what the hell, barrow in the carbs.
Let’s discuss the most difficult of those vexing questions – the future of advertising. At a time when we’re witnessing the heaving birth of what will become the industry’s biggest behemoth, as global giants Omnicom and Publicis finish doing the funky chicken before snuggling up in a massive mega-merger, conventional wisdom suggests that in spite of the elegance of economies of scale and intellectual capital this tie up will inevitably bring, brands seemingly want small over big.
One industry heavy told me this week there is an alarming move inwards as more and more brands are starting to execute their own communications work. We really are in the age of one man and a Mac, he asserted; and the quality of output in an age where brand is rapidly moving online, is improving as quickly as the drunk posting of a celebrity selfie.
So where does this leave the big shop? That one stop multi-named destination where grand strategy is developed, huge ideas imagined, and beautiful things emerge on screen and on paper (remember paper). Well if current trends are to be believed, in a tough spot. But should ad agencies be stringing up the rope and tying the noose just yet? Of course not. The central premise of any agency is still the big idea and one where brands involved in the hurly burly business of doing business are unable to compete. And big ideas are where agencies need to return to and articulate more effectively the astonishing value they add in this respect.
Agencies these days, in a desperate bid to salvage margin, have become one-stop all-size-fits shops offering everything from party planning and balloon blowing to shop window design and giving the wife of their top client and mani and a pedi. This must stop forthwith I cry and agencies need to return to the grand business of intense thinking, mining great unimagined insight and explaining to their client how all of this will change their business and make them more money.
Small teams with a single minded obsession about solving intractable market problems and visioning the future are the ones where I want to lend my brand to. The planning, making and execution can be farmed out. So good luck to Publicom or Omnipub or whatever the snorting new beast striding ad land will be called. But will it be nimble, will it be quick or will it deliver with the weight of a brick?