Holding Tight To TV

Ad Age executive editor, Jonah Bloom, questions why big agencies are so slow to adapt in today’s adapt-or-die business environment.

Despite an overwhelming mass of evidence that their business models are fatally flawed and their service offerings out of step with many marketers’ demands, the biggest agencies have done remarkably little to substantially reinvent themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter how many of their clients shift projects or even full-scale brand assignments to smaller, nimbler, flatter structured, less-30-second centric agencies, the biggest agencies seem reluctant to really blow up their model.
All the big ad agencies still have layers and layers of bureaucracy, rampant job-title inflation and hundreds of people whose chief role seems to be managing up. Their product has barely changed (you could count the genuinely big ideas from the last 12 months on one hand), and I’ve heard at least three separate first-hand reports of people within those organizations who’ve had good non-TV ideas for a client being told that they’d have to be turned into TV commercials before they could be pitched.

One big player seems ready to adapt. Lee Clow said TBWA/Chiat/Day should see itself not as an ad agency, but rather as a media-arts company.
Bloom questions the business model, while saluting Clow’s moxie.
To me, the changes underway appear rather simple. We’re in the customer engagement business today. TV is one place where engagement occurs, so it’s survival is assured. The real difficulty seems to be reordering the pyramid of power. TV has enjoyed a long run at the top, and many people have their earnings and professional reputations tied to it. The thing is, no one cares—not me, not increasingly exasperated clients and most of all, not the consumer.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I continue to hear about agencies being too slow to adapt to this “new landscape”. I would agree agree to some extent. But I also believe there are some valid reasons for this.
    First, how do agencies measure the effectiveness of such efforts? Can they deliver any kind of solid audience statistics? Are the people who click through the actual target? Are they clicking in at a time when the message has the most impact driving sales? How many online sites provide the kind of audience information and deliverability of “old media”? If they can’t (and, for the most part, these entities can’t), we should be skeptical and question the value returned by each “new media” dollar spent.
    Secondly, for all the brand news non-traditional efforts have generated, this doesn’t guarantee sales (or good PR). Yes, Burger King’s Subservient Chicken was a hit. It brought the brand back into the consumer mindset. 2004 sales rose during the period (although the company won’t release chicken sandwich numbers). Since then, the company has launched similar efforts. The result for 2005? According to BusinessWeek Online, “The bad news…comparable store sales were pretty weak, up just 1.3% in the second half of 2005 versus a 7% gain in the comparable period of 2004.”
    Other companies launched “new media” efforts last year. KFC was somewhat lambasted for its website (and it’s recent TiVo promotional spot). Coke launched a blind sight that was savaged in no time flat. Over and over, corporations were taken to the public woodshed by anti-marketing folks and others who finally had a soapbox from which they could sling their tomatoes for all the world to see. How do you measure the negative value of those situations?
    My point? New media approaches will play a role. We must thiknk about new ways to reach more difficult to find consumers. But marketing has always followed a very simple rule for success: you either have a compelling product message.
    It’s not the medium.
    It’s the message.
    I fear far too many of us are buying whole-hog into the false, flashy new god of the former.

  2. tommy makes a very good point.
    just coz it’s non-traditional don’t necessarily make it good. i’m currently doing a kickass poster campaign. people still gots to walk down the street!