The Post-Fragmentation Marketing World

Advertising is broken right now. It’s a creaking machine built for another age. We’ve made mistakes, and we don’t have the balls to do what we need to: to rebuild it from scratch.

It’s a $300 billion-a-year global industry that’s working for nobody -- consumers, media owners, agencies or brands -- yet the softly beating pulse of the global recovery means that few have the urgency or brevity to rebuild a system that is not fit for the purpose.

We went wrong with our obsession with verticals -- splitting media from creative in the '70s was bad enough, and it paved the way for channels like brand, PR and CRM to appear. By 2005, we had added interactive, which then became digital before we added social, content and mobile.

In 2014, it’s not unlikely that a medium-sized, single-brand, single-nation brand may have 12 types of agency, each mirrored by a client lead. It could be well beyond social and mobile. They could have a commerce agency, an innovation agency, and they may be on the edge of what I think the next agency type will be -- a digital transformation agency.



If you think that’s bad, spare a thought for large global clients like Unilever, which had 400 “digital” agencies alone in 2012. How does anyone begin to manage such an array? How do people work with such overlaps? How does anything get done?

Our failed structure is a cathedral that our agencies selfishly hope will make money. Our self-defined silos reflect how commissions were once paid, how projects are most easily defined, how skill sets are most easily classified, and how clients can most easily procure -- but they don’t come close to reflecting how people see media or what the new media environment looks like.

We only made one mistake. In 2006, when interactive renamed itself digital, we became obsessed with the verticalization of our industry. From social to mobile, we have added new techniques as verticals, when they should have been horizontal.

If we had created a matrix, things would be better. We’d have media, advertising, CRM, PR and brand as key verticals, but we would make social, mobile, innovation, and content horizontals. We would not have social agencies working on a social strategy, but advertising agencies working with social in mind. We would not have mobile agencies working on mobile campaigns, but CRM agencies including mobile in their campaigns.

The one agency we would never have is a digital agency. Digital is like electricity -- it’s of vital importance and everywhere, but it needs to become so pervasive that we no longer even think of it as a thing.

In this new matrix, we would see a halving of agencies and a reduction in complexity. We would see more holistic campaigns and easier working arrangements and less politics. We would not see a reduction in our workforce -- we’d just spread the talent in the horizontals back into the verticals.

But I’d like to take it one step further.

To keep CRM apart from advertising seems odd, and to have media as a separate unit makes less sense than ever. I’d love to see CRM, advertising, brand, PR and media come together as one, but to slice campaigns in a whole new way -- based on a McKinsey-like three-horizons approach.

We’d have short-term performance marketing looking at everything in the advertising and marketing world that would be happening in the next three months. We’d have SEO, real-time marketing, programmatic buying, and content marketing all working together with a focus on the now.

We’d have brand marketing working from three months to 12 months out on ways to tell stories, maintain brand image, and to use traditional and new ad techniques to build brand equity. And long-term marketing -- where technologists, futurists, product designers and planners all craft the future of the brand -- would have a focal point 12 months out and beyond. That would be to protect them from a future that few can make the time now to think about.

It’s big bold stuff, it’s here to provoke and to raise questions, and it’s not a perfect answer -- but maybe, just maybe it’s better than what we have now.

4 comments about "The Post-Fragmentation Marketing World".
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  1. Thom Kennon from Free Radicals, November 2, 2014 at 7:20 a.m.

    Tom - this is painfully, perfectly, exactly right in so many regards. Well done, man. Take the rest of the weekend off, then get back here and let's see if we can change this ugly broken machine once and for all.

  2. Elaine Morris Palmer from Maven Median NY, November 2, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.

    The world of advertising & marketing got seriously and hopefully not irreversibly caught up in its own underwear. Its like a bad version of Dr. Strangelove. Where are Peter Sellers / Stanley Kubrick when we need them?

  3. Jaffer Ali from PulseTV, November 2, 2014 at 8:49 a.m.

    Rare clarity from an agency person. The increasing complexity is being met with...wait for it...more complexity. Time to apply "via negativa" and start eliminating layers, people, algorithms... But really a nice article that understands the problem.

  4. Chris Wood from Xerox, November 3, 2014 at 4:25 a.m.

    Tom, the broken machine still seems to work reasonably well - but your point is well made and demonstrates the incisive clarity of thought for which ad agencies were once prized and praised. It really is about time the real professionals took back the initiative from all the pseudo, arm chair exponents - power to your pen !

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