A Voyage To Uranus

Okie dokie. We have our answer: 9 ½ years.

That is how long the entire agency business lives in denial after being informed, politely but firmly, that it is living on borrowed time. Nine and a half years! That’s how long it took Voyager 2 to get to Uranus. That’s how long it took the military to catch Osama bin Laden. And that's how long it took for one single holding company to come to grips with reality. Meantime, industrywide: nearly a decade of arrogance, lip service and disservice to clients and shareholders while clinging stubbornly to a doomed status quo.

Finally, with last week's announcement of a deal between Publicis Groupe and Adobe for integrated data management on a Global Marketing Platform, somebody shows signs of reckoning with reality. Usually when I quote press releases, it is to make fun of somebody, but not this time:

Available to all agencies in the Publicis Groupe network, the platform will be anchored in VivaKi as an open framework so that every agency can deploy and brand it uniquely for use. Agencies currently slated to access the system include BBH, DigitasLBi, Leo Burnett, MSLGROUP, Publicis Worldwide, Razorfish, Rosetta, Saatchi & Saatchi, Starcom MediaVest Group, VivaKi and ZenithOptimedia.



The collaboration is expected to drive growth across the two companies, and accelerate Publicis Groupe’s goal to make combined digital and emerging market revenue 75 percent of its multi-billion dollar business by 2018.

Note to Martin Sorrell, John Wren, Michael Roth, Yannick Bollore, Tadashi Ishii and Miles Nadal: get busy. Here’s what your competitor, Maurice Levy had to say to

People are fully [digitally] empowered to escape the messages and content we craft for them. They carry screens and devices with them on their daily journey, and they move fluidly from one to the next with complete disregard to what marketers are trying to tell them. In this new world we need to win the attention of consumers. We can’t disrupt their day or broadcast to them anymore. We need to respect them and engage them. This requires a deep understanding of what they are seeking, when they are receptive to our messages, and when they are not. The rules and assumptions that defined the marketing industry for decades are completely rewritten.  

Well, duh. But recognition is better late than never. As if to punctuate the state of chaos occasioning the partnership, Adobe released a report (prepared with the Dublin-based anti-ad-blocking PageFair) titled “Adblocking Goes Mainstream.” It reports that ad-blocking software, chiefly that integrated into Google Chrome, has increased penetration by 69% in the past year and now is employed by 4.9% of all Internet users worldwide. Oh, and a disproportionate percentage of them are 18-29 years old.


None of this is a surprise to me. I haven’t shut up about it in my columns since 2005 (see “politely but firmly”) hyperlink above) and have devoted two books to documenting (2009) and dealing with (2013) the “Chaos Scenario.” What has astonished me is the degree to which agencies have tried to conduct business as usual. As recently as a year ago, in this space, I quoted the global creative chief of a major agency network telling me that it's all about the “storytelling.”

I suggested that people were DVRing right past his stories, and he should be trying to cultivate individual relationships at scale. He was unpersuaded. When he complained about competition from other agencies, I replied: “In my view, you should be worrying more about SAP, Adobe and”

It would be a good story to tell this week if his network were part of Publicis Groupe. Alas, it belongs to another holding company. Which means what it is part of, along with scores of other advertising agencies, is the problem.

7 comments about "A Voyage To Uranus ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 22, 2014 at 11:16 a.m.

    I confess that I have influenced a small number of age 18-29 students in my classes, after they complain about targeted ads on their Facebook. I pull up my own Facebook wall on the class screen and ask them, where are these ads you're mentioning? Finally some genius will notice that tiny stop sign logo on my Chrome browser and point out, you're blocking the ads! And then they get it: It's their choice to watch ad clutter.

  2. Carol Lewis from Riverton Media LLC, September 22, 2014 at 11:18 a.m.

    "What has astonished me is the degree to which agencies have tried to conduct business as usual." Me, too, Bob. Utterly amazing. What's worse is the fact that, although the large holding companies are getting a clue (finally), there are many millions (billions?!) of dollars being spent/wasted by independent entities - including clients themselves. Stakeholders don't understand and/or think it doesn't matter. But - why does it make sense to waste ANY money?

  3. David Carlick from Carlick, September 22, 2014 at 11:34 a.m.

    Looks like WPP is seeing things your way:

  4. Barbara Lippert from, September 22, 2014 at 12:09 p.m.

    Great that Publicis is doing a leap frog (so to speak.) I had heard ( I"m not making this up) that until last year the whole network was on Lotus Notes.

  5. Bob Sanders from Sanders Consulting, September 22, 2014 at 1:46 p.m.

    I'm with you Bob... it's funny how some have been promoting change! And for so long... Not sure if you remember, but way back in 1993 ADWEEK and our firm ran a conference called Genesis that addressed some of the ways agencies could adapt for the future. Many of those ideas, strategies, and tactics for change are still true today. And many agencies still haven't changed.

    What is still missing today, I think, is a little context. Why is the traditional ad agency resisting change? And what can be done to address these issues?

    The reason, I feel, is most traditional ad agencies operate within the context of functional thinking: handle the task at hand. A strategy exists for executing projects, a client is gained and fed into the system, and the creative output is produced.

    Beyond the basic execution of the creative, functionally agencies find it hard to move out of the lines painted by the client. There is little time, or effort, put into how to transform and truly utilize the information flow that surrounds consumers today.

    The traditional advertising agency was never structured as a vehicle for truly comprehensive, integrated, marketing communications. Most advertising agencies are working with blinders on. They’ve failed to capitalize on the opportunities.

    They'll still be around for a long time, as clients need to reach mass audiences. But as a new, more digital, audience evolves the traditional ad agency will need to evolve as well... only faster and more so today. Or they'll be replaced with a new big marketing structure only in a difference context. Think Google.

    How To Survive in This New Era: High Performing Ad Agency

  6. Bob Sanders from Sanders Consulting, September 22, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.

    Damn! forgot links don't come through...
    Click This New Era: High Performing Ad Agency

  7. Paula Hynes from The Rodon Group, September 23, 2014 at 1:48 p.m.

    Just returned from the Inbound 2014 conference and this article is very timely as well as engaging. Best read of the week. Thanks

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