At a recent AMASA monthly forum, on transformation in the advertising industry, it seems that I might have upset a few people. Well, to be honest, I’m actually quite relieved. For one moment there, I thought I might be losing my touch.
It was suggested on the night that I should debate the issue of transformation more calmly and more academically. Be polite and just follow the rules laid out in the latest MAC SA Charter (MAC-2). My response is ‘stuff that!’ Who says intellect and passion are mutually exclusive? Let’s debate the issue with all the collective fury and creativity that we can muster and leave the polite exchanges to the dilettantes who make a living out of ticking the boxes on scorecards.
I mean, after all, look how well that has worked out for KPMG and McKinsey
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much beyond the starting premise for the AMASA forum, before taking the road less travelled by, because I simply don’t believe that the primary purpose of MAC-2 should be to redress the injustices of apartheid.
Now, before you say ‘Bah! Humbug!’ and dismiss me as the Ghost of Media Past, let me firstly say that I am in total support of the need for transformation. Hell, as chairman of the Advertising Media Forum at the time, I wouldn’t have signed the initial charter in 2007 if I didn’t believe in it.
I believe in transformation as an imperative for our industry, indeed for our nation, and so I accept that MAC-2 outlines a set of parameters that must be complied with. In fact, I urge the advertising industry to comply. But I also believe that compliance with the MAC Charter doesn’t mean real transformation, any more than sending someone a greeting card guarantees them a Happy Christmas.
I firmly believe that the purpose of MAC-2 should be to build a better, more equitable and more globally competitive advertising industry, and in so doing, to empower the individuals who want to work in advertising, by ensuring that we do still have a world-class advertising industry in the future. We don’t want to reshape the old industry. We want to build a new, better industry.
I’m told that the media industry must transform because it’s legally bound to comply with MAC-2 and that I need to accept advertising is no different to any other business. Bollocks! Anybody who believes that advertising is the same as any other business probably also believes that writing a novel is no different to printing one; that creating the Oscar-winning movie which is projected onto the cinema screen is essentially the same as projecting the movie onto a screen.
This is even acknowledged in the introduction to MAC-2: We acknowledge that marketing and advertising communication as the live-wire of a free market-based economy is an intrusive form of communication to which over 47 million South Africans are subjected every day of their lives. For such a small industry, its power to influence South Africans is disproportionate to its size; hence the need to make it a truly South African industry is imperative.
Transfiguration not transformation
We don’t need transformation (a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance) in the advertising industry. We need transfiguration (a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state). We need to transfigure because if we don’t, we will not survive.
We need to transfigure because digital technology has created a quantum shift in consumer behaviour and we need a quantum shift in our response to that new reality. We cannot respond by steadily transforming the way we have done business (and planned media) from an historical perspective. Great advertising is a non-linear response to the consumer’s increasingly non-linear engagement with media.
You can’t transform the advertising industry by moving from A to B because there is no A to B anymore.
We need transfiguration because the future has already landed; because the aliens have landed and they’re turning the advertising industry into something unrecognizable to Mad Men like me, not just in Mzansi, but worldwide.
When the leading advertising agency in the world is Accenture, then something is amiss. When the ANA-K2 Report confirms there is “significant evidence of non-transparent business practices which are not limited to a specific type of agency, or a specific type of media” then the basis of our business-model is in question. When Hewlett Packard classifies media-buying as a ‘monetisable criminal enterprise’ and positions ad-fraud on the same graph as organised crime, then the very core of our business morality is in question.
The advertising and media industry needs to regroup, re-engineer and reposition itself as a matter of urgency, if it is to have a future at all.
Media planning is dead! Media planners are becoming extinct; and I should know because I’ve been one for 40 years. There is nothing we do as media-planners and media-buyers, that cannot or will not be done faster and more accurately, by an algorithm. The aliens have landed and they speak a different language. We speak creativity and cultural diversity. They speak in numbers. We speak reliable big-sample research like AMPS and ES. They speak agile big data.
The problem is that media aliens wear T-shirts that say Go Cheap or Go Home. Yes, programmatic buying will eliminate local market nuance. Yes, it will ignore cultural sensitivity and ethnic languages. Small community based media, the people’s voice in a fledgling democracy, will disappear. Unless of course, we tell the algorithm to do something different.
The simple reality about algorithms, is that they don’t even need to live in Mzansi to work their alien magic. They remain in the cloud from whence they came. If I am using big data for programmatic buying across Africa, then what will stop me from moving my company from Jozi to East Africa where broadband access is faster and data 10 times cheaper? Or India, which has more digital professors per square inch than the Starship Enterprise.
Competing on a global stage
In the alien world you don’t have to be in Mzansi to produce advertising for Mzansi. We don’t have an inalienable right to be the media and communication hub for Africa. Those days are over. We’re competing on the global stage and so we need to train young people in media, not to try and loosely connect market research databases and rate-cards (which is essentially what we do as media-planners) because algorithms do that faster and more accurately.
What we need to do, is teach them what to feed into the algorithm and how to interpret what comes out. We need to teach them the latest thinking on CPA and ROMI (and if you’ve Googled these acronyms then QED). The GIGO principle applies.
You want to transform the media industry in Mzansi? Start by transforming the job descriptions and start equipping young people to compete with the aliens. That implies an absolute commitment to training. Not just the occasional workshop and a few learnerships but a massive commitment to continuous training both formally and informally. We need to institute some form of CPD (Continuous Personal Development) programme which sets a certification standard for media professionals, not just in Mzansi but across Africa. There is no empowerment without employment. And there can be no employment without intellectual and functional empowerment.
Where do we start?
First transform the minds of the individuals in advertising and then industry transformation will follow.
Expand the MAC SA Charter Council to create a proper Meta-Forum with representation from all interested parties who dwell on Planet MAC. What truly defines the limitations of MAC-2 is not the stature of the signatories who ‘endorse’ the charter but the industry bodies who are not represented. The AMF (Advertising Media Forum), signatories of the original charter haven’t formally endorsed MAC-2. The MDDA (Media Development & Diversity Agency), whose stakeholders would be the most obvious beneficiaries of a transformed industry, is not a signatory. The IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau), now responsible for +/-30% of all advertising spend, by all accounts was not even invited to participate in the process of drawing up MAC-2.
If we are to transform minds, then we need a regular and open forum for the exchange of views, not a management council that meets and deliberates once a year on a pass-fail scorecard. Transfiguration of the industry is about emotional buy-in, not legal compliance. George Bernard Shaw once observed, “If I have an apple and you have an apple and we both exchange apples, then we’ll both still have an apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea, and we exchange ideas, then we’ll both have two ideas.”
We desperately need to start actively exchanging ideas on how to ensure that we remain a competitive world class advertising industry. The problem is that MAC-2 is still so worried about the colour of the apples, and the rest of us are so busy fighting over how many apples each person should have, that we haven’t noticed that the aliens are eating the bloody apple trees, and replacing them with holograms.
If we carry on like this, there won’t be any apples left at all.
Gordon Muller is Africa’s oldest surviving media strategist. Author of Media Planning – Art or Science. Mostly harmless! This post was first published on his Khulumamedia blog. Follow him on Twitter @mzansimedia