The Advertising Agency Is Dead. Long Live the Advertising Agency.
By Colin Gray
The great constant of advertising is change, and over the last couple of decades we’ve seen some of the fastest and most momentous shifts since the advent of television. The chronological gap between the now hilariously outdated Space Jam website (conveniently archived here) and Coca-Cola’s Real Magic campaign utilizing AI technology to invite people to create art for their brand (not to mention their sophisticated AR packaging is incredibly tiny. Without a doubt, within a few months of publishing this, even AR will be waning in relevance.
The industry changes so quickly, in fact, that some agencies risk ossification and confusion by renaming themselves after new methods and technologies in a gambit to establish relevance and expertise. The bold move of proclaiming your company a digital agency may have seemed like a brilliant move not that long ago, but now may translate to being relegated to doing web banner ads and social media management while the agency of record takes on the big fun stuff in a campaign.
While "advertising agency" is no longer the most apt term for the agency/client relationship, "you risk looking silly if you’ve come up with a ten-word definition of what you do," says Jonathan David Lewis, President of McKee Wallwork.
Lewis indicates that the more worthwhile approach may be to leave the description alone and instead focus on positioning, and give clients a clear idea of how your agency differs from others. Our agency specializes in helping stalled, stuck, and stale businesses, and our energetic pursuit of new methods, technologies and disciplines is designed to fuel that specialty rather than replace it.
Ultimately, if the agency’s positioning hasn’t changed, then inventing a new category descriptor doesn’t make much sense. Clients need to know why they should hire you, and if you go around calling yourself "digital insurrectionists" or "change agents" or whatever the hot flavor of the week is, you might alienate the very people who you hope to work for.
At its core, our approach here is to “Discover the DNA of a brand and learn how to grow life from that DNA into whatever form we need to. That could be architecture, movies, web banners, whatever we need,” Dave Ortega, our Executive Creative Director, says. That dive into a company’s DNA leads down many avenues, but all toward the same purpose.
While our leadership team considered rechristening McKee Wallwork an “innovation company,” that turns out to muddy the waters, which is a big no-no for any company that specializes in communication. Actually, the most accurate description for ours and other modern agencies might be “problem solvers,” but as long as branding is a primary function, “ad agency” or “marketing agency” are still the clearest descriptors.
Tactics will always shift, but advertising can be neatly summed up as connecting brands to people. Even if tactics transform so much that nothing a future agency creates can be called an “ad,” if those creations are still intended to connect brands to people, it is still, broadly speaking, an advertising agency.
If an agency has a strong sense of their own identity, that’s what matters, and there are a myriad of ways to articulate that to clients, none of which require confusing name changes or long chains of adjectives and qualifiers. In the end, we choose to embrace the name “advertising agency.” After all, it makes more time for the hard work of helping our clients’ companies thrive.
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