Size matters: Ideas or Budgets in advertising

An anonymous commenter took offense at our posts about the efficiency of Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Chiat/Day’s campaigns- thinking we were comparing our work to the big agencies. I deleted it- and immediately had regrets- I should have instead responded- and this is what that response should have been.
When I entered this field in 1985, one of the things that made me different than my peers was a small box with a 9 inch monochrome screen- I had a Macintosh. I made presentations to prospective employers that included their logo (scanned from a business card with a Thunderscan cartridge in an ImageWriter II) and set in 12 point “New York.” I thought I was so cool- and apparently so did a CD at a big design firm. They swore up and down that a computer could never set type- or handle 4/color or give them more control than they had in the days of photo-type, lucy’s and waxers. Needless to say, long after I left they were one of the last shops to buy Mac’s and even ended up buying memory from me (a side business that at one time was quite lucrative- $200 for 1mb chip!).
These days, if you can’t use Adobe Creative Suite, you can’t be a designer/art director, and typesetters as a profession have gone the way of the three-martini lunch. There are lots of people in the advertising business that can create an ad, or a campaign, or brand your business- and they can charge prices that range from dirt cheap (Phil Knight paid Carolyn Davidson $35 for the “swoosh”) to the very costly (The Just for Feet superbowl ad that practically killed the company).
While there are awards shows to “rank” creativity (many tainted by plagiarism – or portfolio doping with spec ads) and competitions that judge “efficiency” the fact is- advertising isn’t scientific- no matter what Claude Hopkins thought – but more of a black art- based on the ability to touch consumers souls and make them do or think about products and services differently.
Yet, most will agree that math is a science- 2+2=4, it’s black and white- but for those who are at the top of the math nerd pile- math stops being a science and becomes art- the elegance of an equation, the methods used to solve problems- and while advertising people think they are cool- and math nerds aren’t- let me point to Google- started by two math nerds who may take over advertising based on the strength of their scientific skills at solving an equation. No ad agency has ever grown its revenue like Google has- and no agency ever will- but just as there was a day when people in this business could still do advertising with or without a Macintosh (or PC if one is a masochist) we are in the days where agencies can either manage their clients accounts with or without taking on the online side of the account (which is embarrassing for our profession).
Quite simply- the point I’m making in a round-about way, is advertising/marketing is going through a transformational phase that is of epic proportions- and there are still agencies out there making money and selling themselves as solutions when they still don’t have command of this relatively new tool.
You can spend millions of your clients money on a TV spot- that can be skipped at the touch of a TiVo button, or not delivered because they chose to watch Desperate Housewives from the Apple iTunes store instead of over broadcast. John Wanamaker famously said that he knew half his ad budget was wasted – he just never knew which half; those days are coming to an end, and it should scare a lot of people in advertising.
Soon, every ad will have a direct response component in it- and awards shows won’t matter- sales will- and they will be calibrated to the penny (which will make Procter and Gamble very happy). In the mean time, we at The Next Wave, will still evaluate advertising not only based on creativity- which we believe in, and value greatly, but by the new science of delivery efficiency as measured by results- one being the ability of an advertiser to build community and connections with their customers over the new fangled Macintosh of our day- the Internet.
So while many agencies are still farming out site creation to specialty shops and talking about online viral efforts, without a clue to how these all fit in with the new paradigm in our business- we are here, trying to position ourselves with our understanding of how these pieces fit together in the same way I did 20 years ago with my little Mac built presentations. Do I believe we could do more effective work than Crispin Porter + Bogusky (or help them be more effective) yes, absolutely. Do I believe we could do work as creative as CP+B, no- we don’t have the number of people, or the pick of the people like they do, to churn that much work out.
BMW Motorcycles made a choice to hire a firm with a very cool, but functionally useless website. Think of it as the Mona Lisa of websites if you like (they proudly display the “Cyber Lion” award on the front of the site)- but the reality of this new medium is that the tool that drives the audiences (search engines) is effectively a blind idiot savant- and can’t appreciate the Flash animations, the cool graphics or the down home music. If this is the model that they plan on delivering to their client- BMW may as well give up selling motorcycles in the rest of the country as they seem to have in SW Ohio.
If the advertising business is going to survive this change, both clients and creatives need to fully understand how this new technology works- and how to implement it. That’s The Next Wave for now.
What do you think?