Is advertising like a boiling frog?
Have you heard the fable about the boiling frog?
The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.
If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump straight out. If you gradually heat the water, it will sit there patiently boiling to death.
It is a great analogy for what has been happening over the last few years in advertising.
The economic crisis brought by the pandemic has impacted the entire world in different ways. As for our industry, the crisis has pushed several giant agencies to reduce staff and increase services, due to the lack of investment from brands in creative marketing.
Doing more for less out of necessity has impacted clients' perceptions, leaving the perceived value of many agencies at an all-time low.
If we have any ambition at all of recovering this value, we should stop hiding behind the crisis and understand why the creative value was in free-fall way before the pandemic.
I believe it is not because we lack creative talent, but because we are using talent to carry a heavy, unsustainable machine that seems to be obsolete: Old advertising.
The truth is that the relationships we have with clients and their business, the measurements of successful work, and even our own internal structures have not evolved, and ironically, being the ones responsible for making brands relevant, we haven’t done enough to stay relevant ourselves.
There is good news though: we have an opportunity to fix it.
The bad news is, we may not have another one. We either change now as an industry, or we won’t be part of that change. And that is exciting. A push away from our comfort zone. To dare. To innovate. All the things creativity is about.
This change would mean becoming less reactive to client pressure. We need to move from attempting to constantly optimize the structure depending on the task handed to us to diversifying our offerings, through collaborating with unexpected external and diverse talent from other industries.
This would allow us to move towards a new mindset where we act more like a startup and less like a corporation.
I’ve seen this happen in a few independent creative hubs and agencies before the pandemic, and I'm sure it will happen more and more.
And as part of this mindset, where we claim the value of the work we have, we need to face every briefing as a business opportunity to develop formats and ideas that have a real financial impact on both client and agency business. I am talking about actually owning our formats and the technologies we create and then finding clients to invest in them, or simply lease it for as long as the format proves engaging - not just giving them away for a flat fee.
Just take a second to think back about the number of great ideas you’ve given away for nothing or that have been abandoned after a few weeks, the platforms that were not developed further that could have become game-changing, or about the ideas that have become stuck in the marketing short term results-driven mindset. All of these could have become part of your agency’s revenue while still impacting the consumer.
The only way we’ll make this happen is by rethinking the financial relationship we have with clients.
We have so many available tools to measure and ensure the real results of our creative work but this cannot be about hours anymore - it has to be about the numbers.
Aiming to move away from outcome-based fees to performance-based models would give the clients security to invest and would push agencies to seek impactful creative work that can generate KPI’s beyond the expected, improving the outcome for everyone.
Relevance is such an important word. I'm sure there are several different ways of reclaiming it, but one thing is for sure, we cannot expect different results by doing the same things over and over. If we start now, we can all ensure we’re not the boiling frog.
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