Is the Ad Industry Just Scared Shitless by Social Media?

Media culture has changed. We can choose fear, or we can choose to embrace it.

by Christian Jacobsen

I was going through my inbox the other day and found the following research document from search and business development consultancy, RSW:

There was a lot of interesting — and conflicting — information about the state of the industry in there, but the above chart really struck me.

Sure client turnover and loyalty is killing us all.

And speed of market is a huge topic, as social media has shown that creative inspiration doesn’t always require four weeks of development followed by a dog and pony presentation.

And results matter. They always have. Now we have better ways to track them so agencies should do so. Gotcha.

What I found particularly interesting, however, is according to this chart (and I happen to believe it), both sides are blaming each other for putting too much emphasis on new and social media!

Now that’s a pretty broad statement so let’s deconstruct why this might be.

A) Who’s in charge?

Let’s imagine who’s at the helm of the lion’s share of organizations on both sides. I’d wager they were pre-social, potentially pre-digital, even at the start of their careers. They’ve been trained in the classical ways of building a brand and reaching a consumer. This is the push approach, which is to fine tune what you want to say and either pound people into submission through media spend or charm them through brilliant advertising.

The problem is that today, we’re in a different media culture. It’s a world where people are empowered to avoid ads — ad skipping, ad blocking, and no-ad Netflix come to mind. It’s a world of pull. So to get what we want we need to give them, our audience, what they want. And as Seth Godin has so rightly pointed out — we’re all horrible narcissists and our brains haven’t been trained to think that way.

B) Is it media or is it creative?

New media and social media blur the lines between working and non-working dollars if done correctly. Content partnerships and influencers are paid for by media dollars, but creative and production will oftentimes be part of the package. Sounds great, but in our accounting systems, built to formulate the old ways of doing things, this is too gray of a territory.

Agencies might think they’re innovating taking advantage of all the new branded content studios from Vice to Refinery29 to The New York Times, but clients don’t know how to judge agency compensation. Or clients might wish to take advantage of packaged deals, but agencies hate abdicating creative control to a third party and will feel their AOR status as creative or strategic lead might be threatened. Either way you look at it, someone’s undeniably going to feel insecure.

C) Control has shifted.

Building upon the last thought, is the concept of control. Control is something clients and agencies have always sought to maintain. Call it the strategic or creative vision or whatever it might be, control was key in the old days. But with new and social media, control is thrown out the window. You can’t control an influencer (well, you can try). You can’t control the consumer. You can’t control culture taking hold of something and playing with it. If control is important, than of course the new world makes you nervous.

D) Money, money, money.

Of course money is always an issue, and we can’t discuss modern media without considering that the financial system most often used in procuring and managing agencies is completely outdated. Both clients and agencies love traditional media. They know how to price and price cut it. New media, not so much. And when it comes to social, the fee structure clients apply is based on when a few kids right out of college were pulling screenshots of the ad campaign or sourcing beach images from Getty and posting them on Facebook for practically free. Today, it’s a different story. Multiple platforms. Algorithms. Content production. Media boosting. More and more video required. Real time task-forces. Everything mobile. Whoa, this is a different world than what we’ve budgeted for!

Of course, these are just a few reasons why everyone might be scared shitless of where the industry’s been headed. But once we get over all the hang-ups and learn to budget properly, think audience over consumer, and open up our narcissistic minds long enough to cede a bit of control, we’ll see how creatively fresh and inspiring modern media culture can be for advertising.

It is up to us to be the change we want to see in the world.

Christian Jacobsen is a founder, partner and strategist at Mistress.