Advertising and marketing world: It’s time to fix ourselves

Jon HollowayIn an open letter Jon Holloway sets out a manifesto for the changes he thinks the advertising and marketing community need to make to save  itself.  

It’s time for change, radical and evolutionary change.

No point us all talking about it, constant rhetoric and then back to the day jobs to do things they way they have all been done.

Working in the advertising and marketing world is one of the best jobs any person can have, we play with ideas all day and get paid to do it. We are all on the hook to get this amazing industry back on track, because in all honesty, we are in serious trouble.

We are supposed to be the most creative industry in the world; but truly in all essence 90 per cent of what is done is lazy, drawn on a canvas that hasn’t changed for 40 years and mostly we are playing at being different without changing any of the fundamentals parts of our business that keep us safe and warm.

It’s time for serious and radical change, we need a new mindset and new operating model that starts from the core of what we do, why we do it and essentially who we employ to do it. We are under attack from every business that can see the wasted dollars, the wasted time and the scarcity of real, sustainable results; start-ups to consultants are coming to get us.

We are living in the time of advertising and marketing mediocrity. Not because we can’t make adverts and put them in to the media, but because WE ARE making adverts and putting them in to media.

We exist today on a burning platform:


We define it in completely the wrong way, harking to an old world that no longer exists. We live in a world of constantly evolving landscapes, creativity now comes from those who always learn and are constantly changing their skills.


It’s always been a problem for me to define people this way, however in a world of unlimited choice where information and product is available in every format. We need to unlearn everything we think we know about humans.


Any business that is built relying on media to sustain sales and growth isn’t going to survive. On a long enough scale every product would die. Media is a great amplifier, but it shouldn’t be our reliance and shouldn’t be 70-80 per cent of what we spend.


We are constantly looking back and inwards; we are stuck in doing thing the same way they have always been done because it used to work. We use data retrospectively and seem unable to forge a future based on prediction, risk and trying the new and next.


We are an industry that believes every problem can be solved with advertising. Advertising is an answer; but maybe it’s not the right answer most of the time. It should only be a small part of what we do.


The models of most agencies and marketing teams are the same as they have been for 30 years. We have bolted on other skill sets without changing the approach, people or core of what we do.


The advertising and marketing merry-go-round is well documented; people jump from shop to shop and from brand to brand.

The gene pool is too small; everyone is trained and learns in the same way, does everything in the same way. There are very few outliers in our increasingly safe world.


The size of the industry is driving safety over creativity. Everyone is driving profit from what they have always done, managing shrinkage and reporting upwards to global networks and brands. Safe is killing us.


We don’t push anymore, we are a protectionist industry, keeping the status quo is enough to make a good business. The future won’t allow this, we need to learn to push each other.

10. DATA

Why do so many ad campaigns from different agencies in the same category look the same? They have the same data, the client has the same data and they all get to the same conclusion. We use data badly, we create the wrong story from the right data.

On top of all that, we are an expensive industry, costs of salaries are increasing and the brands are willing to pay less for our services. If we don’t find a way to charge differently and build models differently, the simple fact is that the businesses will die from natural causes.

In my opinion, we are all asking the wrong questions and accepting the wrong answers. We have become lazy, we have become bloated and we need to start making changes today. It’s not going to happen overnight, but needs to happen and start today.

Five steps that we can start to change today:


Before we try and fix it with advertising, lets spend more time thinking about the problem. Marketers are trained to create marketing and communications, not fix problems. Advertisers are trained to create advertising, not define problems and create solutions.

We both need to become better at it, together.


Every advertising agency is talking about not being an advertising agency. However innovation, digital transformation, human centricity and technology aren’t the specialities of advertising agencies. Ads are, when you need advertising, go to you advertising agency. Marketers choose the right partners for the right job and don’t be afraid of risk.


The fundamental problem is the core of advertising businesses still makes money from doing things the way they have always been done. The outlaying services of the future are hard to embed and radical innovation is hard. Agencies, it’s not impossible, commit to it and back it with cash, people and get it at the core of your business.


Lets persuade different types of ideas and solutions people to join our industry. If someone has always worked in the advertising industry they are probably not a good bet for the future. Agencies and marketers need to take calculated risks with new people.


Let’s step back and look at media for what it should be, an amplifier of greatness. Let’s focus on getting the right solution then look at how media can help to amplify it, if at all. Focus on real personal connections that can be monitored, measured an utilised.

Over to you all for your opinions, what would you change today, what do you think doesn’t need to change? Interested to see whether this is just my opinion, where I am wrong and what has been missed?

Jon Holloway is managing director at The Conscience Organisation


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