An obituary to the great agency brands, from someone trying to build one

Bastion Collective CEO Jack Watts pours one out for Australia's advertising memories as he looks to the future facing the industry.

Rest in peace to the grandfather of advertising, J Walter Thompson. Rest in peace Singo’s. The bar will live on in the memories of those who were there. The work, hopefully, will live forever. RIP Mitchell’s. We grew up in your town and you ruled it.  RIP Patts. There was no better place than Collins St for satisfying a hard earned thirst.

And RIP MOJO. Thanks for making being Australian a good thing. And Polyunsaturated… still don’t know how you got that in there.

RIP The Palace. Thanks for Up There Cazaly. Dad used to whistle it as we walked to the footy.  RIP White, Grey, WhiteGrey, Tongue, Landor, MEC, Maxus, PPR.  RIP Vizeum, Visual Jazz, Spark, Stadia Media, With Collective, Soap, Amplifi.  RIP Colmar Brunton, GalKal, TNS, Millward Brown.  RIP Naked.

And this week we lost Ikon and Geometry.

We’ve lost so many over the years. And gained so few. Most were taken from us far too early. Some I’m too young to know, only be told about.

Sadly few died of natural causes. The truth is something closer to mass murder. Inflicted by bean counters, cost cutters, faceless company men and women sitting behind long tables in far off lands.

The worst part, the eulogies. The best we get is a story about the positive effects of consolidation, efficiencies and a photo of two smiling people who will now spend the next 12 months competing for the same job.

And they are only just getting started.

I look at the names above with reverence and admiration. With hope that the business we are building works its way up the list and just maybe, one day, near the top.

I also look at those names with disbelief, that iconic brands built with blood, sweat and tears were so easy to kill off. To put a line through on an org chart. To eradicate.

It has taken us 11 years to get to a point where our brand means something. And let me tell you we have had to bleed Bastion Collective yellow every single day to get it there.

To see our brand die would break my heart. I hope it never comes to that.

So what next?

It gets worse. Over the course of 2021 agency brands will be killed at a rate we have never seen before. Where they used to be picked off one by one, 2021 will be more like the atom bomb.

WPP taking over the remaining Australian shares gives them free reign to merge, cut and kill. Dentsu have said they only want six global agency brands (have we seen the last of Haystac, Cox, BWM, even Carat?). Publicis, IPG, Omnicom, Havas are all following the same strategy, all under the cover of COVID. Don’t waste the crisis is what they are saying in the boardrooms of Paris, London, Tokyo and New York.

And you know what? They have to do it. Its the only way these businesses can modernise.

Depressing? Yep. But the good news is that we are about to see a comeback. This is like the part in Star Wars where Luke regains his strength and starts landing blows. The indies are fighting back. And we’re winning.

2021 will see the rise of a new generation of independence and independents. Names that will change the industry and hopefully our nation, like those that have gone before us. And not just new names – new models, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing business.

So strap yourselves in.

If you’re talented, think about your opportunity to be a part of building something great and create a new era.

If you’re a client, you now CAN get fired for buying IBM…

If you’re an indie, don’t look back with nostalgia, look forward with purpose. Don’t re-create, re-imagine what the agency of tomorrow looks like and build that. That’s what Singo, Harold, Mo and Jo did and it worked for them.

And if you’re at a multi, maybe it’s time to get off the Death Star and join the rebel forces…

Jack Watts is the CEO of Bastion Collective.


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