The advertising industry – delusional in the face of adversity

The IPA and the Future Foundation has just released a report of the future of advertising in the light of the growth of social media.  The summary is worth a read not so much for what it says, but the way it reveals the essentially delusional assumption that there is even a remote possibility  that the advertising industry could ever get to grips with social media.  An assumption presumably endorsed by the IPA and shared by the industry as a whole.

For example, the report includes the following:

Nearly 95% of (those interviewed) agreed that more brand messages would be passed on informally from one person to another by 2016, and 90% agreed with the statement: “Some advertising campaigns will be built entirely on messages being passed from individual to individual.”

Here’s the thing.  An advertising campaign built entirely on messages passed from individual to individual is not an advertising campaign.  It’s a word-of-mouth campaign, or social media campaign, or a conversation campaign.  Whatever you call it, the way you do this campaign is totally different from the way you do advertising.  In every single respect.  An advertising agency would be about as capable of doing this as a giraffe would be capable of ice-skating.  No amount of practice, re-training, re-skilling or re-purposing or ‘getting to grips with’ is going to make it anything other than a very painful thing to watch.

What advertising agencies need to get to grips with is the fact that there is essentially no significant role for advertising within social media.  This isn’t to say that advertising will die completely but its role will be dramatically reduced and it will loose its primacy as a vehicle to carry a brand narrative, not just within social media but across the board.

Neither is this to say that there isn’t an agency role in helping clients produce content and manage conversation and community – which is what success in social media is determined by.  However, these are challenges that are already being addressed by PR agencies, WOM agencies, digital agencies and even some media agencies.  The ad industry is already way behind and so structurally maladjusted to meeting these new challenges that it is effectively already out of the game, before it ever realised the game had started.

The report maintains that unless the ad industry gets to grips with social media it could face growth of only 1.2 per cent by 2016.  In reality growth of 1.2 per cent is a fantasy.  I would imagine that the ad industry is going to face contraction to about 20 per cent of its current size by 2016.  So the message for ad agencies that this report should have delivered is “if you still want to be in business as an ad agency in 2016 – adapt to being small and insignificant”.

Here is something I wrote on this nearly two years ago – still holds true I think.


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