Don Draper is back — the advertising agency comes full circle

I don’t know if you remember the evolution of the modern sound system. I started out with a German Gerard turntable that was connected to a British Pye radio in the early sixties to listen to my Beatles music on vinyl. The Pye Radio had an amp, a speaker and a tuner. Then people told me it didn’t work that way anymore. You needed a separate tuner, a separate amp, an equalizer, two speakers for a good stereo sound etc. I used to marvel at the separation of the stereo channels and how each speaker seemed to have its own separate voice. Hurrah, it was the age of specialization. Now 3 decades later it has all collapsed back into one thing — my Bose Bluetooth speaker.

Well, much the same has happened to advertising. When we started out, the likes of David Ogilvy or Bill Bernbach in the US, and Bal Mundkur, Sylvie DaCunha and Frank Simoes in India, were one man advertising shops. They went to the client, took a brief, came back, wrote some copy, sent it to the art director, went back to the client with an ad and media plan and hola, the ad was released the next day. Then they told us that it wouldn’t work like that anymore. Media got split into planning and buying in the first phase. You needed copywriters to write ads. They couldn’t be the same people who visited clients and made them happy. Then came the opportunity of my career. They said client service people didn’t have the time to think because they were too busy with other things, so we needed something called account planners. I happily joined to become one of India’s first account planners. A little later, they said the media department had to be separated and become its own company. So, in 1998 while I was still in JWT China, we formed the second Mindshare office in the world, (the first was London) led by none other than my friend Kelly Clark, now the global CEO of Group M.

And now advertising is coming full circle. In management lingo it is called consolidation or integration or perhaps more accurately re-integration. It means that the age of specialization is over.

What does that mean for the future of advertising?

Well for one it means that a person in advertising might need to be a jack of all trades once again. Think about it. I knew my media just as well as I knew anything else, as a young executive in advertising. I knew the rates of every publication in the country, the cost of a 30 second spot on my fingertips, I could write copy, do the strat planning on the brand and often the media planning, and even arrange the launch event for that pesky global fmcg major who was planning to launch their next soap or shampoo brand. Market research was done by knocking on households on a hot summer afternoon to ask a housewife how many bottles of milk her family consumed. Or by doing focus groups in our agency conference rooms, over a ‘middle class English’ tea with biscuits.

With Havas being the latest to join the re-integration brigade — Publicis and Ogilvy already made their announcements last month — that creative and media would come under a single P & L, it does mean that the days of specialization might well be over. Everyone better know everything. (Or am I wrong? Is consolidation of P & L just paying lip service to re-integration?)

But lets hope the tooth paste is getting back into the tube, after all. Might be a good time for Don Draper to plan his return. The mad men and math men will now become one.

Is coming back full circle peculiar only to the advertising industry? I think not. I wouldn’t be surprised if bell-bottoms were back into fashion soon.

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