While musing about a few industry issues recently, I noticed three things:
• Talent seems to be getting thinner on the ground;
• Campaigns that endure with a single consumer promise, are rare; and
• New agencies of substance (and billing) don’t seem to be happening.
The communications business needs a shake-up!
Let’s deal with lack of talent first…
You will not earn enough in advertising to retire by the age of 55. Young, talented people in 2008 are looking at IT, marketing or finance as areas that have international saleability (plus, no doubt, greater saliency than advertising and communication).
On top of this, we must factor in the reticence of all communication companies to employ large numbers of people – never mind be in a position to train them.
There is a need for better tertiary training. It would be in all media owners’ best interests to set this up: Not only could their staff and trainees be educated, but the agency which they count on for informed, unbiased opinion, would be stocked with a better-calibre planner.
Moving to the second issue: Why are there so few single-minded, enduring campaigns these days?
Maybe they’re not applicable in today’s world. Compared with even 10 years ago, the consumer has been sensitised to change and has embraced it. No sooner had he replaced his VCR with a DVD player, than he was faced with the iPod and PVR.
Long-running, thematic advertising very quickly becomes boring. So, whilst clients and agencies today may stick to the same positioning, the same tone of voice, and extrinsic promise, the execution has to be continually refreshed and regenerated to maintain interest in the communication.
Of course, the “epic” multi-million rand productions still exist, but I’m always a bit uncomfortable with these. Maybe it’s because most of South Africa’s major brands are established in the mind of the consumer through years and years of interaction with the brand itself. So it’s great if your communication mirrors this and dramatises the brand values effectively. On the other hand, telling me you’re fabulous is one thing; being fabulous is a whole different ball game.
So there is a lack of talent in the industry, and a variety of messaging is probably the right way to go nowadays. Does that mean there’s plenty of work for the not-so-good?
Not so. There may be some work out there, but one can really count on one hand the number of start-up agencies in this country in the 21st century. Yes, the aforementioned lack of talent may have a small part to play in it.
But there are a multitude of reasons inhibiting growth in the industry.
Budgets have been sliced and diced over more media. The money has to be stretched over all forms of communication – including activations, promotions, product placements, sponsorship and so on. This stretched budget is then spread over a multitude of “specialist” suppliers; some of whom can actually add value, while others merely duplicate what has already been achieved.
Not surprisingly, if any start-up shows even a glimmer of talent or a sniff of success, they are underwritten (read: bought) by one of the conglomerates.
To me it’s no wonder that truly new directions are so hard to fi nd if there’s never a change of guard.
There’s a communication job to be done that’s different to the one that was done three years ago, and will be different again a year from now. We need to equip the industry better, with more smart people, and somehow encourage the brave to strike out for undiscovered territory. That’s what will keep this industry going.
Harry Herber is the group managing director at The MediaShop.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (December 2008).