Circling The New Paradigm
It may not be an absolute truth, but it’s definitely already a truism that the classic AOR model is a thing of the past. Brands are working with multiple agency partners, and often putting them in competition with each other, not just for better creative, but because process and technology are evolving so quickly that a static universe of creative partners is not enough to keep up with the rate of change. Project work is commonplace, and there’s no time to do an agency search and a pitch process every time there’s a new need. Holding companies are trying to fill in the blanks by creating client-specific “agencies” from within their networks, with decidedly mixed results. Particular projects require specialized solutions. Above all, brands are constantly challenged to produce more with the same budgets. Every platform demands video content, and different platforms require different solutions, so repurposing assets is only part of the answer. Social content has to be relevant in real time, so it has to be constantly updated. Broadcast commercials don’t suddenly work as vine videos. It’s not just versioning or adaptation any more.
Here’s the reality, let’s call it Blum’s 1st Law of Visual Media – all visual media trend toward greater production value. What this means is that the natural tendency in the production of visual media is always towards greater quality, whether that is visual, technological, complexity, adaptability, innovation, it doesn’t matter. Look at the evolution of video and computer games, cell phone screens and cameras, virtual and augmented reality, visual efx technology, and so on. But with greater production value comes greater complexity, and therefore higher cost. Technology may become cheaper (look at the cost of a 4K TV today versus three years ago), but the process stays the same – people, time, and stuff = $, and production value gobbles up technology with relentless efficiency. The fact that the means of creating video content are proliferating does not make the process cheaper or more efficient.
Here’s the new paradigm, let’s call it Blum’s 2nd Law of Visual Media - In today’s advertising ecosystem, creativity is driven by technological innovation as much or more than it is served by it. What you need to remember is that innovation, by definition, does not exist to serve the status quo.
The good news is that new and better ways of communicating with consumers are appearing at a rate unparalleled in the history of advertising. However, brands need to figure out how to take advantage of all these opportunities without sacrificing effective management of the process and the spend. The classic agency model provided a lot of comfort in handling a large volume of third party spend and managing a range of different suppliers, from small boutique production companies to global ad distribution partners. Agencies today working on a project basis have no responsibility for consistent process or management of issues that come up months or even years down the road. Decoupled projects may require that the brand manage multiple vendor relationships themselves. Media agencies are moving into the creative and production process, but do they have the process knowledge to manage it? What about social influencers? Manage it through an agency? A specialized execution partner? Crowdsourcing? What if you want the creative but not the execution?
Brands need to be supported with the expertise to fill the gaps so that they can experiment with new process without the fear of being blindsided by problems they don’t see coming. This model needs to be collaborative, and inclusive of agencies and vendors. Problem-solving, market intelligence, and research into new trends and technology are the way to ride the wave, not get crushed by it.
You don’t save money by spending. If you want to save money, cut your budget and do less. If you want to do more with what you have, make choices, monitor the results and course correct. Look at P&G’s decision to cut back on targeted buying on Facebook, for instance. There is no magic bullet for production of cheap content. The more challenging, but ultimately better road, is to experiment, and make better choices. Savings targets do not produce better process, but better process inevitably drives more effective use of spend and hopefully, better results.