by Jarred Cinman (@jarredcinman) Whatever your source, the data and thought leadership about the ad industry right now seem clear: we’re screwed.

Dark days

2018 was a year of storm clouds and dark days for our industry. Nowhere was this more evident than inside WPP [full disclosure: I run a WPP-owned business] which lost its apparently eternal CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, Group M’s Irwin Gotlieb, 50% of its share price and some long-term accounts — in the case of Ford, 75 years long. But while the spotlight might have been on WPP last year, there was pain enough for everyone: the encroaching big consultancies which became the world’s biggest ad agencies; the relentless gobbling up of media money by Silicon Valley tech giants; and the collapse in trust of those very same tech giants in the aftermath of Bell Pottinger and Russian hackers.

Here at home things seemed as bleak. The economy went into a technical recession, job losses mounted and client budgets got cut and cut. The industry grappled with issues of transformation — occasionally succeeding but often stumbling. Losing Keith Rose was a hard blow that underlined a grim year.

Is that fair?

It’s certainly the tone and content that I kept hearing. Whether in the pages of “Frenemies” (the excellent Ken Auletta book) or in articles on Ad Age, this message of relentless apocalypse was all too evident.

We live in dark times. Of that there can be little argument. We have a racist narcissist running America and right-wing fanatics are being elected around the globe. At home we are struggling through the aftermath of a captured state and unresolved race and class divides.

Still need to ply wares

But the thing we all forget in all of this is that companies still need to ply their wares to customers. Unless you have a product or service that sells itself (maybe Apple or Amazon could argue they do), you need to build your brand, pitch your deal, service your client and grow loyalty. Until the machines really do take over, the best way to do this is still to hire a great agency.

I’m not saying that because I own an agency. I’m saying that because, in spite of all of this naysaying, no one has actually made a coherent case for how consumers are going to make choices without marketing. There are those who imagine that search engines or e-commerce sites or recommendation agents fall outside the marketing ecosystem. But that’s simply false. Wherever there are competitive products or services, there is a race to capture a consumer. And the only way we know how to do that is to capture their hearts and minds with great advertising.

It’s true that what “advertising” is has changed. It’s also true that it’s changed many times since the Egyptians pasted papyrus notices on ancient stone walls. Technological advances have been major disrupters in the ad business for thousands of years. The papyrus sellers no longer have a business. But that never killed the ad industry any more than the internet has killed it.

Actually, this is a boom time for advertising. There has never been more of it. It has never taken as many forms or been distributed on as many channels or seen by as many people. It has also never reached so deeply into how a business works. These days, progressive companies know that their website and app and call centre and maybe even their product itself are ads.

Only have dreamt of

Agencies are being given assignments that, honestly, our forebears could only have dreamt of. We’re building software and making albums and shooting films and designing gadgets and — yes — making ads. We’re also becoming experts at crunching data and using algorithms to better target people and refine our messages.

I’m not denying that some of our businesses are under threat; we’ve seen iconic South African agencies collapse and there is margin pressure wherever you look. But this isn’t because advertising is dying. It’s because these businesses are failing to keep pace with what consumers respond to and what clients are asking for. Yet there are and will be agencies that do better than ever.

We know some things about them.

  • They will prize data at their core.
  • They will be tech-savvy and channel agnostic.
  • They will still have great, breakthrough ideas.
  • They will know how to make content that people love and seek out.
  • They will put the customer first.

They need people to buy their stuff

But the notion that the ad industry is collapsing isn’t true. The people who employ us today have the same problem they have always had: they need people to buy their stuff. Therefore, until there is no human involvement in that process (hard to imagine but not impossible), there will be a need to advertise.

So, this is a message to everyone whinging about budget cuts and procurement departments: get out there and innovate. Help clients win against their competitors using the wealth of new tools and techniques available — and celebrate the chance to be part of this awesome industry for a long, long time to come.

See also


MarkLives logo What are the industry expectations for the marketing and advertising industry in 2019? Kicking off our “Big Q” column for the year, a panel of key agency and marketing executives discusses the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and any consumer and communication trends they’ll be looking out for in the year ahead.

Jarred Cinman (@jarredcinman) is the CEO of VML South Africa, part of one of the leading digital agency networks in the world. He was elected as deputy chair for the DMMA for 2012, chairperson in 2013 and then drove the rebranding to form the IAB South Africa, of which he was chair for three years. In 2013, Jarred was awarded Best Individual Contribution to SA Digital Media & Marketing at the Bookmark Awards. He sits on the Loeries Committee and is a board member of both the ACA and DALRO, and used to be a member of the SAARF and the Creative Circle boards. In his spare time, he answers his email.

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One reply on “#BigQ2019: Is advertising screwed?”

  1. Great, inspiring article, we shall soldier on with our iPads and Macs in hand.

Comments are closed.

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