This past weekend, two of the world’s largest advertising companies -- Publicis and Omnicom -- announced their intention to merge and become the world’s largest advertising company.
Some people heralded this as the end of the Madison Avenue Ad Man, with his slick jingles and emotive television spots. Others proclaimed the new day of data supremacy, where advertising is now all about collecting and selling the personal information of millions of consumers.
Both are wrong, at least partly.
Is the era of creative marketing over? Far from it. The best marketing is useful, empathetic, and inspired. Are we at a point where machines can automatically craft the right message for consumers without human intervention? Not even close. Automation without empathy can create an uncanny valley of bad marketing.
The fact of the matter is that both of these entities -- the creative and the data analyst -- need each other to succeed today. Together, they can create marketing that breaks through the noise and connect with the always on, always overwhelmed buyer.
Consumers are overwhelmed by the volume of marketing messages, and they have more and better tools to opt-out and screen-out unwanted interruption-based marketing. Radio advertisers have to deal with consumers who will pay $4 every month not to hear ads on Pandora One. Television advertisers are coming to grips with consumers who flock to shows on Netflix and HBO in part because there are no interruptions.
In other words, it’s harder than ever to break through the noise. There’s a flip side though --companies have access to more information about consumers and their behaviors than ever. Consumers tell companies everything about themselves, and not just demographic information -- all they ask for in return is trust and personalized messages that have relevance in their world.
What all this means is that modern relationship marketers have an opportunity to stand out from all the noise with creative, inspired, and empathetic marketing - by combining the left brain and the right.
What It Means for Agencies
This puts agencies in a tough spot. For decades they made money through buying media, buying interruptions. Today they have to reach targeted audiences with personalized, relevant, and creative messages. This is harder and more expensive to do, which is why we’ve seen a wave of agency mergers over the past decade. The agencies that will lead and thrive in the coming years are the ones that can adapt, that understand that creative without data is as worthless as data without creative.
Data can tell creatives how far along someone is in the buying cycle, if they’ve said anything about the product on social media, or if they’ve purchased something similar in the past. Tell a creative to craft a message for to a woman in her forties and you could get any number of results. Tell a creative to write an email to a woman in her forties who previously purchased something from your store, Tweeted about it, and is now spending time on a different product page, and you’ll get a much better result.
Ironic as it may be, this idea was best summarized not by a young social media guru, but by a giant of 1960s advertising, San Francisco ad man Howard Gossage. He said, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad.”
Another way to put that is that no one wants interruptions, but everyone wants relevant, personalized messages. What should we learn from the Publicis Omnicom merger? It’s time to bring together the creative and the data analyst, the hipster and data geek, the mad men and the math men.