Is The Future Of Advertising Like Sex?

November 22, 2010

“Marketing in the future is like sex. Only the losers will have to pay for it.”

So says ad man Jon Bond in a lengthy article by Danielle Sacks exploring that very topic (the future of advertising, not sex) in the November December issue of Fast Company.

Sacks explores the profound changes in the way marketers spend their dollars and agencies make theirs, and interviews a few of the people, like Bond, who are leaders in navigating this new marketing landscape.

Sacks does a great job of laying bare the challenges faced by both agencies and their clients as the internet continues to change how people consume media and seek connection. The following excerpt goes to the heart of the issue:

“At a time of shrinking budgets, chief marketing officers don’t know where to turn. They have little confidence that old-world agencies know how to navigate the chaos, and they don’t know which newcomers to trust. “

As the founder of one of those “newcomers,” I can tell you we struggle every day to jam a foot in the door with wary CMOs and other marketing decision makers. You’ve heard the old axiom:  Nobody ever gets fired for buying IBM. That’s what we’re often up against as we try to pursue new client opportunities in competition with some of the biggest and best-known agencies in the world. While we know we are often the right choice, we also know we’re rarely the safe choice. Some day we will be. Today we are not, and that makes competing in this muddy marketing landscape extremely difficult.

On the other hand, having spent several years as a senior executive at one of those intergalactic “old-world” agencies, I can tell you with all sincerity that my job would be tougher at a lumbering shop where silos and shareholders reign. I often say that nobody buys what we do in bulk, but that’s often what the big boys are still selling. Sacks does a very credible job of getting her nose under the big agency tent and describing what my peers at those shops are dealing with as they struggle to reinvent their agencies to compete in this increasingly digital environment.

As for Bond and his claim that only losers will pay for marketing in the future? He has it half right, in my opinion. Bond is talking about the accelerating shift from “paid media” to “earned media,” and believes great brands will increasingly have the ability to tell their own story and get other others to do so as well, eliminating the need to buy awareness and relevance through traditional advertising. My take: marketers will always have to pay for marketing and will continue to use paid advertising as an effective part of the marketing mix. The losers will simply have to pay much more as they’ll be forced to overcome their deficiencies through heavy traditional ad buys.

Grab an ice-cold Coca-Cola, find a comfortable chair and dig in to this must-read article. Then stop back to the Peepshow and tell us what you think the future of marketing looks like.