Real Media Riffs - Monday, Jan 8, 2007

THEM, BUT DEFINITELY NOT YOU -- According to Time magazine, you are the person of the year, but according to trade publication Advertising Age, you definitely are not. Well, at least not if you happen to work on Madison Avenue. Taking a page out of Time's playbook, Ad Age selected not an ad agency, but average consumers, as its "Agency of the Year" for 2006. The decision is bound to generate a combustive reaction on Madison Avenue that is not unlike the combination of Coca-Cola and Mentos, but that's precisely why Ad Age picked Joe Public, says sassy Editor Jonah Bloom.

"We threw around more agency names but kept coming back to that idea of consumer as agency," Bloom booms in a letter to readers defending his decision. "The arguments piled up: Lonelygirl15; the Mentos/Coke experiments; TBWA London asking the public for ideas; recognition of the importance of consumer-to-consumer communication; marketers' oft-stated belief that the consumer is in control. Of course, consumers aren't agencies, but they have become arguably the most effective creators and distributors of commercial content. If we were ever going to do something different with our selection, this was the year to do it."



Actually, we know firsthand that the editors of MEDIA magazine considered, but rejected, naming "the consumer" as its agent of the year in both 2005 and 2006. The rise of consumer control over media, as well as an increase in actual consumer-generated media, has surely had an effect on the flow of advertising messages, but we didn't see anything over the past couple of years that rivaled the impact our MEDIA's picks had on the world of advertising over the past couple of years. Surely, the business has gotten tougher, and big marketers are talking about "letting go," but it's been agencies like Starcom, and Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and clients like Procter & Gamble and Toyota, who've figured out how to harness newly empowered consumers to aid and abet in their brand messaging.

But we still think Time's and Ad Age's picks are inspired, if for no better reason than to get Madison Avenue thinking about fundamental changes that have been taking place.

Meanwhile, if the changes that are taking root now as we shift into 2007 manifest the way we think they may, MEDIA could well pick the equivalent of "You" as its Agent of the Year next year. Those changes aren't about consumer control of media per se, but they are about shifts that have the same potential for disintermediating the traditional role of Madison Avenue. Developments like Google's migration into offline media and the ascendance of Spot Runner--a virtual, full-service, online-based advertising agency--will enable anybody to create, plan, buy and measure advertising with the same professionalism as the biggest ad shops. Let's see how Madison Avenue responds to that one.

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