Then vs now: Adland leaders on how the industry has transformed this decade

Shrinking budgets, 'short-termism', the rise of digital and the battle for talent. Mumbrella's Zoe Wilkinson asks industry leaders to review the decade, and reveal how adland in 2010 compares to 2019.

We are counting down the final days of the decade (don’t argue with me. It wasn’t a fun argument in 1999, and it’s an even less compelling one in 2019). So, what better time to celebrate and commemorate adland’s 10-year metamorphosis with advertising industry leaders?

BMF’s executive planning director Christina Aventi thinks 2010 versus 2019 is “same, same, but different”, White Grey’s CEO Lee Simpson says it’s been a “decade of great change”, and DDB’s national chief creative officer Ben Welsh dubs it a “Jurassic period for advertising”.

“There are small, nimble, furry creatures running around, chanting the doom of the larger, older models and in many instances those furry critters have been right,” Welsh says.

“The consultancies are in ascendance. WPP and Publicis are contracting and merging.”

In 2017, Accenture bought The Monkeys for a reported $63m and RXP bought The Works. Deloitte Digital has come into the creative market clients like Suzuki. New kid on the block, Thinkerbell, is backed by PwC.

Meanwhile, WPP has merged creative agencies with digital agencies to create businesses which can offer integrated creative, data and tech services. VML merged with Y&R, resulting in VMLY&R. Wunderman merged with JWT, creating Wunderman Thompson. The White Agency merged with Grey Group Australia, to create White Grey – headed by Simpson.

Lee Simpson, CEO of White Grey, says the ‘lines have blurred’ between disciplines

“Without wanting to state the bleeding obvious, we have gone through a decade of great change,” Simpson admits.

He thinks the lines between disciplines have only become blurrier. The decade has seen the rise of full-service agencies such as CHE Proximity and Cummins & Partners. Media agencies like PHD, Initiative and Spark Foundry are producing creative work. And the creative industry has increasingly looked towards the world of earned media, previously the domain of PR agencies.

“The type of work we do has evolved, the lines between disciplines has continued to blur, the mix of people delivering work has changed, the competition is broader and the context in which our clients exist has become disrupted too,” Simpson says.

Aventi maintains the industry has gotten quicker in its disruption, moving from two pitches a year to “always-on pitching”.

“From a hamster wheel to a higher-rev hamster wheel. From retainers to value-based pricing … well the start of. A start is always important. From VR to AI. From buzzwords to um, more buzzwords,” she quips.

BMF’s executive planning director, Christina Aventi, says pitches have picked up at the end of the decade

Meanwhile, Gayle While, CEO of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, argues that the industry’s ambition is the same. Creativity is still the foundation of everything – the ways of expressing it are just different and more varied.

“At its core, I believe the ambition of the industry is largely the same. We still want to create big ideas that embed themselves in culture, we just have more ways and a broader canvas to do that on,” While says.

Thinkerbell’s co-founder and chief thinker, Adam Ferrier, feels like the industry now knows more firmly what it is doing and what works. 2019, he says, is better and more evidence based than 2010 was.

“It feels like we are teasing out what works and what doesn’t and with our feet now more firmly on the ground it feels like there will be a creative resurgence,” he suggests.

“We now have more evidence of what works, more diversity in how we do things, and more awareness on the impact of what we do.”

According to Laura Aldington, CEO of Host Havas, the biggest change the industry has seen in the past decade has been the way people consume entertainment and culture, and in-turn, how their attitudes towards advertising have changed.

Host Havas CEO, Laura Aldington says that the industry has been affected by the changing ways people consume media

“Consumers wouldn’t care if 77% of brands disappeared. 60% of people switch to another device when TV ads come on. 47% of pay for content online just to get an ad-free experience. 91% think ads are more intrusive today compared to two years ago,” Aldington says.

“And yet, audiences are devouring culture and entertainment like never before. 83% of people now believe entertainment is a vital need, along with food, water and shelter. 56% would give up sleep to binge watch their favourite show. Six out of 10 of us can’t even stand still without consuming some form of content.

“In that context, it’s impossible to imagine why brands still talk about going ‘head to head’ with popular culture in 2019 – they’ll lose every time. Brands need to think harder about how to leverage the things consumers care about rather than compete with them.”

And then there’s the rise of martech, which digital impacted budgets, shifted the industry’s view to ‘short-termism’, led to more specificity in agency credentials, and, as a result, has been credited as the biggest change in the past 10 years.

Chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett Sydney, Emily Taylor, proposes that the rise of digital left room for more brave and innovative brands.

“Hindsight is of course a beautiful thing. But looking back, I’d say in 2010 there was a lot more art, alongside the science, in advertising,” she says.

“As digital established itself in our lives and our marketing budgets, many began opting for the surety of the direct digital activity over the possibilities of breaking new ground.

“But that did leave more room for the brave and the innovative. Those brands that harnessed new channels and technologies without losing their ambition for entertaining, culturally relevant work with oodles of personality. Those who brought their purpose to life in inventive ways.”

Emily Taylor, chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett Sydney, says the decade saw budgets be dominated by digital

Taylor also believes that chasing short-term results has lead to less effective and more conservative work being circulated.

“I’m all for effective work, I’m a strategist after all. Effies are my jam. But chasing short-term results has taken many Aussie brands to very straight work,” Taylor says.

“We’re Aussies, God damn it. Bring back the personality.”

Gayle While, CEO of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, believes the industry is self-correcting

While agrees that technology and short-termism dominated the decade, but also argues that, in recent times, the industry has started to self-correct.

“We’ve had so many macro influences over the course of the decade from new platforms, automation, CX playing a bigger role and even creativity taking on different definitions,” While offers.

“All of those influences conspired to nudge the industry towards a focus on short-termism and tactical executions that could be measured quickly.

“The biggest change, and perhaps the most important one, is that we’re just now swinging back to balance. Appreciating long-term creative thinking that builds brands, and re-learning how to couple that with the tactical approach that’s taken up so much of our focus over the past decade.”

Welsh also believes that this tech and results-driven world has left the industry with short-sighted results. But, to him, this is also a double-edged sword, forcing positive change and the sophistication of creativity.

“The threat of the consultancies and the inevitability of programmatic has brought a new focus on the importance of creativity,” Welsh explains.

“But, at the same time, the award industry has increasingly focused on what are essentially short-term ideas, which goes against the broader conversation about the importance of long-term emotional connection.”

National chief creative officer of DDB Sydney, Ben Welsh, says we’re remembering the importance of creativity 

While believes that this ‘obsession’ with data has also had its positive and negative effects.

“Without context, data can be the antithesis to creativity and growth,” she claims.

“With context however, it can help inform and validate the incredible impact that creativity can have for businesses.”

Meanwhile, Simpson contends that shrinking marketing budgets as having the most negative effect on advertising.

“Whilst the value we create is to be celebrated, the value we extract from the process is far from ideal,” he says.

“Ten years ago we were moving up from charging based on inputs, to outputs to outcomes in the form of ‘payment by results’ as an element of the deal. However things haven’t changed that much and the balance of what we get paid vs the massive value we create isn’t quite right.

“You can point the finger at multiple things – from measurement to the ‘race to the bottom’, to relying on charging for execution rather than the intellectual heavy-lifting – but it has a negative impact on the industry and the people it can attract and retain.”

As for the positive, both Simpson and Taylor are excited by the industry’s growing diversity of talent.

“In any given meeting, I can be in a room with a brand strategist, a creative, a performance media thinker and a tech lead. It leads to more varied and exciting output,” Simpson says.

Despite this increase in diversity, While believes the fight to grow and retain talent has been the decade’s biggest challenge, and one that’s ongoing.

“The challenge that has continued to grow over the past decade is the battle for talent, and how we find, teach and grow a talent pool of people that are passionate about creativity and have the openness and growth mindset required to succeed in our ever-evolving industry,” While says.

Mental health and burn out have also been hot-button topics in the industry over the past 10 years. The shrinking marketing budgets have put pressure on agencies, with more expected out of staff and the boundaries of work hours pushed to the limits.

In 2018, Never Not Creative, Everymind and UnLtd released the creative, media and marketing industry’s first major study into the mental health issues affecting members of the three industries. The study found that stress was a key contributor to the mental health of employees, with 57% showing symptoms of stress and 18% displaying severe or extremely severe stress.

Key stressors included pressure from others, multiple responsibilities, working when sick and long hours.

Only 29% of employees participating in the study said that they would disclose to their workplace if they had been diagnosed with depression.

Thinkerbell’s Adam Ferrier says tech giants have been held to a different set of rules to the rest of the industry

Ferrier claims that the industry has missed an opportunity over the past decade to be the leaders of Australia’s creativity.

“But the governing bodies can work together to have a single, influential voice. It feels like the world is becoming increasingly efficient and soulless and is yearning for us to lead the way with more creativity,” Ferrier says, going on to say that tech has dominated this space because they get to play within a different set of rules.

“I think we have also been too lenient on the tech companies (in particular Facebook), allowing it to mark its own homework and play by a different set of rules to the rest of the industry. Marketing and media is powerful and needs regulation and safeguards.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s inquiry, and final report, into digital platforms reflects the industry’s concern that the likes of Facebook and Google have unfettered power and need to be regulated.

Moving forward, Aldington would like to see the industry recognised for what it contributes to society. In fact, she says, the survival of the industry depends on it.

“I’d like to see us transform ourselves into a more highly regarded, respected and professional industry; one that is recognised for the incalculable value it can add to business; one that is paid fairly and properly for the work it does; one that attracts, trains and retains high calibre talent; one that is progressive; much more diverse; fun but appropriately so; one that focuses on and celebrates the effectiveness of our creativity,” Aldington said.

“We have the opportunity to grow up in the next decade, take ourselves more seriously and be more confident about our worth and value; and I don’t think that is nice to have, I think our survival depends on it.”

Aventi, too, wants to see the industry “come of age” in the next decade.

“A tenacity to be decent and commit to work, to ideas, to experiences that unlock shared value and wellbeing. What’s the point of growth at the expense of a world that’s crying out for us to take notice of it and care for it? I don’t mean this in a sanctimonious way, I mean this as a necessary part of how we go about things,” she says.

“I reckon we all suffer from an existential crisis about what we do, but I do think we can do it right-ish by the choices we make. Or so I hope.”

Welsh has even higher, and more noble, ambitions for the coming decade: “I would like an agency – preferably one I’m working at – to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”


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