While the ad industry has been turbulent over the past year, one of the key things it needs to address is reforming its own kingdom. [And that’s on top of the Covid-19 pandemic.]
A lot happened in 2019. In fact, 2010-2019 was something else for the advertising industry.
We saw game-changing work but also a lot more wallpaper. The evolution of the agency model happened more rapidly than anticipated and it caught a lot of folks sleeping. Established titans shocked the industry by shutting down or becoming shadows of their once mighty selves, while Young Turks went about establishing their (advertising) street cred by being agile, audacious and adaptable.
Welcome to a brave new world
It’s clear that 2020 and the next decade are not for the faint-hearted. The challenges facing the ad game and its players are numerous, but not insurmountable. What we definitely can’t do is continue doing what we’ve always been doing. It has to be business unusual if we are to remain relevant, to clients and consumers alike.
The only question agencies and marketers have to ask themselves is if the change will be incremental or seismic. And what if you have a speciality, a certain set of skills? Do you try and augment those by starting to straddle other lanes so that you can offer and do more? Or do you stay in your lane, keep doing what you do best and hope that the industry doesn’t snap its fingers and declare you obsolete?
Right now, I think the only right option is to leave your comfort zone. Crisis precipitates change. And whether it’s small or big, change is absolutely necessary and inevitable. You either ride the wave with a measure of control or risk letting it take you under.
Besides constantly shrinking budgets, what is also keeping agency people up at night are clients’ dating preferences. Back in the days of yore, brands would be with agencies for years, building each other through a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. Those types of situations today are as rare as hens’ teeth.
Flirtations and dalliances
Brands seem to prefer flirting and dalliances rather than long-term relationships. In some cases, this is perfect for the type of job. But overall, I feel that this is a disservice to both parties. It takes time to get to grips with a brand, to know it and its consumers inside out. Only through this process can the best work come to fruition. So while a relationship might start off on a project basis, marketers should look at it as having the potential to become more, instead of already thinking about who to line up for the next campaign.
As we kick off a new decade, we are, depressingly, walking into it with issues that we still haven’t managed to sort out.
These include the mental wellbeing of employees, sexism and sexual harassment, a dearth of women as creative leaders, the gender pay gap, transformation and an increasing skills shortage. These all need to be addressed urgently, as the longer they are left, the more likely they are to create a crisis.
Leaders – both agency and client side – need to ask themselves what they are doing and can do to help drive change.
If the likes of Goldman Sachs can say that they won’t take start-ups public if they have all-white, all-male boards, what is stopping us from rectifying the glaring imbalances present in our sector? How much are we doing to actively try and attract talent from less affluent, more diverse schools and areas? Are we really doing all we can to make sure that the people who create things out of nothing are in a good state of mind, knowing the toll that process exacts on them?
Not a magic bullet
These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves and find answers too, sooner rather than later.
Digital permeates a large part of most consumers’ lives. But not every aspect. So while tech is hailed as the magic bullet and a requirement on every client’s campaign list, it is useless without an idea. And people generate ideas.
Understanding who the consumer is, what they want, how they live, what they hope for and what they need is the key to innovating in a meaningful way. Only once you get how tech fits into the lives of consumers – what is used where, when and why – will agencies and brands be able to implement digital in a relevant way for people.
There’s a saying that “With great power comes great responsibility”. Now, more than ever, is it important for the creative industry to use its power for good. We can shape how people view things, react to them and behave. With all the social ills prevalent in the world, how we approach things can amplify or reduce them. We can choose to be a force for good, like Iron Man Tony Stark, or a force for bad, like Lex Luthor, Superman’s sworn enemy.
Personally, I know which side of history I want to be on and am doing my utmost to make sure that the work we do makes a difference – the right kind – to people’s lives. That’s my ‘why’. Make sure you find yours.
Jabulani Sigege is an award-winning creative consultant with 14 years’ experience in advertising, working at some of South Africa’s most iconic agencies. He’s passionate about creating work that taps into cultural capital, enabling it to truly resonate with the people it’s talking to.
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