Ad infinitum? Mad Men seek new pitch for digital age

Paid to have their finger on the consumer’s pulse, the Mad Men of advertising are under mounting pressure from clients to adapt to a fast-changing digital age where simply shifting marketing dollars online from old media no longer cuts it as a strategy.
Talk at the global industry’s annual gathering in Cannes was dominated by complaints that owners of ad agencies, including the biggest WPP, are no longer set up to help brands reach consumers in an online world of mass but fragmented content.
With tensions rising, many brands are creating their own digital ads in-house and placing them directly on Google and Facebook.
Many more are demanding that agencies rebuild around the client rather than making campaigns in individual agencies to be placed on specific parts of the market — such as mobile phones, social media, billboards, radio, TV and more.
Tencent’s Seng Yee Lau, who oversees advertising on China’s biggest social media platform, said brands and ad agencies needed to fundamentally restructure after the Internet became the largest platform for ads, ahead of TV.
“The reason why marketing is no longer seen as the engine for growth is because we have not innovated ourselves,” he said. “The people the brands are trying to address have formed themselves into a new digital civilisation.”
Changes at Unilever, which spent $9 billion on marketing last year, reflect the tension.
It says it will still use agencies to make big creative TV ads and to advise and buy media inventory, but it is increasingly creating content in-house to keep costs down.
“I’m a huge supporter of advertising agencies but what I need is something fit for purpose for this new world,” said Keith Weed, chief marketing officer for Unilever which owns brands including Dove, Magnum and Persil. “Not every bit of advertising needs to be epic.” Unilever typically works with a dozen agencies for one brand.
As each of those agencies runs its own P&L, it receives conflicting advice and ultimately conflicting ad messages.
WPP, which works with Unilever, has over 400 agencies.
Unilever makes and sells around 400 brands.
Unilever is running a trial with four brands where agencies have had to create an integrated offering, a move designed to help it reach consumers who now use media, content and e-commerce in vastly different ways from just a few years ago.
“The technology itself isn’t the challenge,” Weed said. “The thing that is much harder to predict is the consumer behaviour change that the technology drives.”
Reflecting the huge amount of flux in the industry, different brands are taking different approaches. — Reuters