The Advertising Tic Tac

The music, film, publishing, financial, retail industries have all been affected by the changes that digital brings. Some are slowly but successfully updating their business models to the new times others are fighting agains it. It’s an —ironically— old story by now. And now the same is happening in Advertising. In the words of a strategist who left my agency for greener pastures: “change is inevitable, growth is optional”.

So, what happened?

Way back at the beginning we never really knew what the heck we were doing. That is the honest truth.

We had just no idea what we were doing when we were building mini-sites, micro-sites, online campaigns and all that mumbo-jumbo. In our defense, our hearts were on the right place and all things considered we did pretty good. We successfully helped many of our clients have a presence online that reflected their values and met their expectations (whichever those were). Unfortunately we never, really, knew what signs to look for. We really never knew what metrics of success should be used. Page views that’s as far as we ever got in the old days, or more recently number of fans. That’s if your client was lucky, if not, awards were all you had to measure success with.

But then people got savvy, and somebody pointed to the emperor’s new clothes and put it in his ear that, honestly, for that price tag he should be asking for much more in return. Analytics and data experts appeared and even whole departments were created out of these new insights. That new information paired with the glorification of the newly born breed of customers named “users” and all related “user centric design” have thrown new light into our small inbreed universe of Advertising.

So now we know better. And what is it that we know? That all we knew up until this point was wrong and that we had to start from scratch. Oops.

But we feel pretty good about this revelation, because we can always look next door to traditional advertising houses and think “at least I’m not as clueless as that guy”. Still, it’s a pretty small consolation.

Some industries are really suffering and will continue to suffer. The ’too big to fail’ is not a sustainable model specially when digital —driven massively by new generations— is involved. Kodak, Blockbuster, etc have fallen. No major advertising industry in the list. Are we safe? Far from that. We’re just late to the party, that’s all. The writing is in the wall. There are better models.

David Carr called it “the doomsday tic tac”. And the sound is getting pretty loud.