You work in advertising? Are you sure?

Remember that last scene in the 1984 movie, The Terminator?
It’s set at a remote petrol station and we see a young Mexican boy cry something in Spanish. Sarah Connor asks the older attendant what the boy said and the man says, ‘He said there’s a storm coming.’
Sarah Connor looks into the distance and says, ‘I know.’

Sometimes I look at the ad industry and feel like that Mexican boy. Except maybe nobody understands the language I’m speaking, or they’re just in denial because they don’t want it to rain.

But I know I’m not the only one. Nick Law from R/GA gave a talk at Circus – the Festival of Commercial Creativity in Sydney last year.

He put up a slide and said, ‘this is what happens when technology meets industries’. He then proceeded to highlight how technology had changed, or in some cases wiped out, entire industries.
I’m sure former employees of Kodak would agree, and no doubt the bean-counters at various music labels remember this when they have to sign huge cheques for Apple every month.

Let’s look at our situation. Most ad people are working harder than they ever have before. And, relatively speaking, they’re probably doing it for less money than they have before. As an industry, we look like all the animals in Madagascar 2 standing around the ever-shrinking waterhole. It’s happening across a lot of marketing and media areas.

So, how can you prepare for the future?
Well, I think we simply have to ask ourselves what industry we’re really in.

Some years ago, I went to another talk given by Patrick Collister. He used the example of White Star.

White Star

In 1870, White Star formed and would grow to become one of the largest shipping companies in the world. The Titanic was theirs, but that ill-fated voyage isn’t why they’re not around today. They simply didn’t realise what business they were in. They thought they were in the ‘shipping’ business. They weren’t. They were actually in the ‘transport’ business.

Instead of focusing all their efforts on travel by sea, they should have been carefully looking at a new competitor – travel by air. Who knows? If they had, there might be a White Star A380 asking people to put their seats in the upright position overhead right now.

The ad industry has been preaching their answer for a while now. We see ourselves as being in the ideas industry, rather than the advertising industry.

But let me ask you this: how much of your revenue in the past 12 months has come from non-advertising ideas? How many new products have you put to market? What innovative business models have you introduced? How many patents have you lodged?
For people who trade in ideas, it seems we’re still firmly stuck in the advertising world.

I’m sure my high school physics teacher had seen The Terminator, but he didn’t speak spanish. He just used to say, ‘Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail.’


7 responses to “You work in advertising? Are you sure?

  1. Okay, so what business ARE we in? Or are you saying that we ought to be in the ideas business, but just aren’t very good at coming up with ideas in fields other than advertising?

  2. Yes, I’m saying that we’re in the ideas business but most of our ideas still tend to be advertising ones. Our revenue predominantly comes from this shrinking pool. Surely if our I.P. is so valuable, we need to find other ways to cash in on it.

  3. Well I just got a bunch of briefs that were all caviated with ‘we want some new thinking on these ones boys’… And I guatentee that within 4 months time I will have made 4 crappy ads. So I’m not sure who to blame, the agency, the client or my ideas. What’s your take Dingo?

    • Hey Bookie, there’s truth in the saying that clients ultimately get the advertising they deserve. So if the client does actually want new thinking, you should have no problem making something quite unique. However, if you think your agency isn’t creating opportunities, maybe you should look outside of it. After all, if you don’t build your own dream, someone will hire you to build theirs.

  4. Can I have another go? I’ve got three possible answers to the question “What business are we in?”
    1) The behaviour change business
    2) The connections business
    3) Creating experiences for customers
    Any of those any good?

  5. Hey Scamp, there’s no right or wrong answer – simply a need to think about what it is that you are truly offering. Sometimes it is as an instigator for behavioural change, or assisting in opinion change (which ultimately manifests itself as a behavioural change in many cases). Or it can be the connections business – I know former Mojo CD Dave Alberts used to explain it that way. And of course our role can be an entertainer or creator of experiences. All I’m saying is that whatever you see your role being, then perhaps you need to step back and ask if ‘advertising’ is the only way that you’re fulfilling it.

  6. Some great points there Dingo! And I would argue that many have been shouting from the roof tops for years… “the change is coming!” Only to fall on deaf ears. LOL

    But my real point is many marketing firms have and are changing, and the ones that haven’t will continue their slide into obscurity. And once the clients start the radical changes necessary to survive as this next evolution in marketing takes hold, more will slide. And new firms will rise… it’s a great time to be in marketing!

    I’ve written many post on what we see as some of the changes, what marketing firms should do to be prepared, and even some on the client side… like this one:
    I would also point out that it really doesn’t matter what we call the industry we’re in, if your ready for change you can move and adapt faster then the competition. Understand that to live in the past, you will die. Adapt to the present and you can survive. Plan for the future and you can really prosper!

    I hope more firms listen to your advice!

    Bob Sanders

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