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Ad Agencies of the Future: 4 Ways Agencies Are Innovating in a Darwinian World

August 14, 2018 at 10:57 AM

***This is the second part of a 3 part series. If you enjoy starting books several chapters in, keep reading. But, if you’re one for beginnings and ends, you might want to read this first.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

 

How advertisers are differentiating themselves through tech, data and venture capital to not just stay in business but thrive.


R/GA, in a sense, is an advertising agency. Its industry-leading team has created award-winning work for some of the world’s biggest (and coolest) brands like Air Jordan, LEGO, and Beats by Dr. Dre. We would name more, but the list would probably take up the remainder of this article.

Yet, to pigeon-hole R/GA as strictly an advertising agency would be an injustice to the organization that is constantly changing, morphing, and transforming several steps ahead of the rest of the world.

Their tagline, transformation at speed, serves as a welcome mat to brands in search of not just brilliant advertising but industry-quaking disruption.

Unlike most of the rose-colored (borderline embellished) branding we see worn by organizations, R/GA has been transformative since its birth in 1977 when it was founded as a computer-assisted filmmaking company.

From there, it morphed into an interactive agency, and today it thrives as a hybrid that excels at advertising, product & service design, consulting, and technology venture capital.

While to the onlooker R/GA appears to be a neatly-packaged behemoth-sized product, to its chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg, it’s only 80% complete.

During Fast-Company’s Innovation Festival, Greenberg gave a talk on the “New Agency Model” and how self-disruption has been key to R/GA’s constant transformation and ongoing success.


At best, we like to think of ourselves as an 80% company because we feel that if you’re 100% you’d be like the advertising business.” – Bob Greenberg


Greenberg explained that the deconstruction of advertising we’ve seen over the past few years has been a symptom of a 60-year stagnation in the industry where nothing dramatically new has been discovered.

As a self-proclaimed work-in-progress, Greenberg strives to be constantly building the entity that is R/GA… because for so many advertising agencies, completion has meant extinction.

 

4 ways admen are becoming adnauts

From Admen to Ad-nauts.

While there is still plenty of fruit to be gleaned from the rich old tree that is traditional advertising, agencies need to begin looking elsewhere –– exploring other planets in hopes to find some new life they can pump into the fading industry.

In addition to R/GA, there are a handful of Admen and Adwomen turned Ad-nauts constantly exploring, morphing, and transforming to not only avoid extinction but thrive in the future of advertising. And, while there is certainly no “one size fits all” model when it comes to innovation and advertising, let’s discuss a few ways agencies have stayed ahead in this shaky yet exciting future.

1. Advertising meets venture capital.

The traditional model of advertising consists of agencies getting paid by brands for the services they provide. While it’s in both parties’ best interest for the advertising to drive more sales, the brand certainly has more at risk because they’re writing the checks.

However, an agency fittingly called Bullish is taking a completely different approach by pairing venture capital with advertising. They invest in fast-moving startups like Casper, Warby Parker, and Peloton and then offer up their creative services to help them move even faster. While they only get paid based-off performance, their pay-out can be huge, especially if one of the startups they have equity in makes it big.

In this situation, the agency is very much so incentivized to create advertising that works and works well –– because if the brand fails the agency fails too.

2. Become an agency to agencies. 

It is said the individuals who made the most money during the gold rush were those supplying the equipment –– tents, shovels, clothes, etc.

Perhaps, staying relevant (and making a killing) in the world of advertising isn’t about participating in the gold rush but instead supplying the resources for other agencies to dig.

Or, at least, that has been IBM iX’s approach, a company that has innovated by simply pulling themselves out of the race altogether. Instead of competing with other agencies they seek to partner with other agencies, offering up services like consulting, technology, content creation and data.

The world of advertising is cutthroat and consists of many agencies vetting for a swing at big brand names. Taking a step back and selling the bats to those swinging isn’t a bad option.

3. Start niching down heavily.

In advertising, most agencies don’t discriminate when it comes to brands –– if a brand is willing to pay for their services, they’ll work with them. However, agencies might find it beneficial to get a little more picky about who they work with and narrowing their services to a very specific category. Ten Adams, for example, is an advertising agency that has experienced tremendous growth by understanding a complicated industry like healthcare, and offering advertising services to it.

In addition to Ten Adams, Cambridge BioMarketing works strictly with medications treating rare and serious diseases. Then of course, there is Sonnhalter , an agency that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty by marketing to tradesmen like plumbers, electricians and machinists. Oh, and we can’t forget about BoomAgers, an old soul in advertising that offers services for brands that appeal to the Baby Boomers. And, finally, there is Cargo, an agency that excels in B2B advertising helping brands market to small business owners.

So, while it’s nice to have a big agency that works with a variety of the world’s top brands like R/GA, Ogilvy, McCann and Wieden & Kennedy, there is more than enough money to be made in being a smaller agency that caters to a very specific niche.

4. Data with a side of Data.

Last but certainly not least, we must list data as a way for the agency of the future to differentiate. It’s both a messy and intimidating subject for advertising agencies and one many wouldn’t dare touch with a 10-foot pole.

But, the agencies willing to approach the world of data with open arms are reaping the rewards because of it. Today, while consumer data is certainly a controversial subject, nobody can argue that it’s not an instrumental aspect of brands succeeding in an increasingly competitive world.

Customer data will only continue to transform marketing and advertising as we know it. And while agencies don’t necessarily need to be 100% fluent in data (though it would help), they certainly need to play nicely with it.

The challenge and opportunity that advertisers face today is to tastefully intertwine creativity and data. Agencies like the Publicis Groupe, which was founded in 1926, are seeing the writing on the wall and have recently started up a division dedicated to data. Then, of course, there is BBDO that is harnessing the power of data to create bigger better ideas.

But, what if there was a groundbreaking area of data advertisers had yet to explore? One that hones in on the 50% of advertising that actually drives results?

Well, to hear more about that one, you’ll have to join us next week for Part III.

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