There has been a lot of great conversation recently about Mad Men becoming Math Men ( thanks, Terry), and it got me thinking about parallels with other industries. While we in the ad industry like to think we are trendsetters for the world, there are other good examples in recent business history where industries were transformed by the march of technology.
Twenty-five years ago, the biggest music companies were Sony, Warner, BMG, EMI, MCA and PolyGram. As consolidation ensued, by the turn of the century, there were only four major players left (Sony BMG, Universal, EMI and Warner), old dogs, chugging along by the power of name value and market control. CDs and cassette tapes were the "protected" vehicles controlled by these companies to push out their products. We all know what came next with the Internet, MP3s, file-sharing -- and of course, instead of changing course to deliver content to consumers in the format they desired, these music companies funneled money into the RIAA and started suing their consumers instead. Brilliant. In that same time-span technology companies picked up on this shift and built distribution channels that broke the old brick-and-mortar models. Here we are now in 2010, and the most influential music company is not Sony or Universal, but Apple, a technology company. Tangentially, Tom Barrack, the founding CEO of Colonial Capital, the world's largest real-estate manager, this week predicted that Apple CEO and Pixar creator Steve Jobs is destined to become the next Samuel Goldwyn: "You can't name who is the new movie mogul. But it will be Steve Jobs and Apple TV four years from now," he told CNBC.
This power shift of engineers taking over old-school industry executives isn't just exclusive to the media world, however -- the same thing happened in Silicon Valley. Michael Lewis nailed this in The New New Thing, which chronicles the rise of Jim Clark, an engineer who founded Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Healtheon (all billion dollar companies). Engineers were once an afterthought, a controlled and used commodity of large corporations. Suddenly, Netscape goes public, its IPO goes through the roof and technologists become Wall Street and Main Street's new best friend. Small tech start-ups turn into the Googles and eBays of the world, new technology rapidly accelerates the pace of all businesses and small tech start-ups begin to be taken very seriously. With engineers controlling the success of new innovative dot-com companies, the industry and financial communities completely tilt toward younger companies with better technology.
Where does advertising fit in to all of this? Advertising did just fine for many years without the help of widespread technology. A clever idea could be incubated, storyboarded and created. A television station could offer time slots for ads to run. A magazine could offer space to buy. A company that owned a Web site could offer advertising placements. Within these spaces, it was simple: create an engaging ad and run it through the appropriate outlets. But now, new innovations in marketing are leveraging technology. Data-buying and advertising exchanges are becoming valuable resources. Targeting is becoming smarter and more efficient with the emergence of retargeting algorithms and API-driven ads. We're all seeing and experiencing this shift day-to-day.
Data folks are moving into media and changing the landscape. So what does this mean to our industry? If history tells us anything, it's that the big players now won't be the big players in 10 years, digital media will be media and leading the charge will be Math Men.