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madison avenueCreative Mad Men - and women - have resisted the tsunami of data-driven interactive products in the marketplace. The creation of an idea has become a lot more complicated. It's time for everyone to wake up.

You can do the character-math and obviously see that Agency is a six letter word, not four. That's the point. The differential many are feeling in the communication industry is because of a looming inequity that's now upon us.

First, let’s get down to that word. "Agency" was derived from word "agent," and originally the french word agere meaning ‘to do’. We know  agencies do many things. Like get paid by big brands to push them into public view with a meaningful story and image. To their credit, agencies have perfected the act of taking money for that distinct mission for decades.

It’s obvious agencies are an industry. Not just by the glitzy parties or the skyscrapers that contain all matter of beasts who serve the notion of finding the big idea and turning it into fee.

Taking a brand to a new destination can be costly and difficult. Yet with this deep change occurring in the industry, many high-touch consumer brands are jumping ship and swimming to shore - of what island we can only imagine.

If you haven’t noticed lately, the cheap and cheerful mention to ‘fan us on Facebook’ is used as a call to action.  Today, clients use the social network as the inexpensive way to connect with an audience. If you follow that pattern, they should probably send people to Amazon.com to buy their products too.

Facebook is not a destination for a brand, it's a temporary stopping place in a long journey where clients can save money.

Oddly, despite this recent change, all the players in the drama keep doing what they’ve been doing for decades. Make print, TV spots and the plethora of other tactics that follow their brilliant campaign idea.  Yes, some of these tactics are on the decline, but they still take the lion's share of spend dollars.

All the while, creatives leave agencies due to frustration with these inequities and more come to fill the space. Meanwhile, clients look for a way to do all this complicated stuff cheaper by sparing the creative idea and spending time on the strategy, sometimes donated for free by agencies. Sounds a bit macabre doesn't it?

It’s as if we’re watching agencies from the other side of the glass in a cultural zoo. Maybe you realize your business is outdated when one of the most popular shows on television is about your heyday.

Amidst all this, clients have morphed into a more educated breed. They're better marketers, and a little more aware of the available tactics  than ever before. This may be only temporary. Clients are busy people. With millions of data points to consider, the notion deciding where to spend the next dollar may be more of a measure of character than information.

But as with most things in this industry, talent doesn’t die, it becomes some other thing. Successful agencies of the future  will have a revenue share model tied almost entirely to their performance. Creative talent will move into smaller more nimble makers of things and shed the bureaucracy large holding companies have stained the tablecloth with. Maybe never to return.

At the end of it, what if the agency as we know it didn’t exist in a year? What if the format of the TV advertising meme message no longer had a place in the cultural cauldron? What if the notion of thinking and expressing was eclipsed by reacting and making? It may be time for a break from the old world of the ad man, but in many ways advertising has been the only art in our modern culture that has survived commoditization. With its demise, we may be loosing our last mirror.

Maybe while we were enjoying the byproduct of all this change a new revolution crept up on us. Now an agency is an manufacturer of applications. Applications with ideas tied to them. In the new world, an idea really isn’t an idea unless its has a interactive product to prove it's true measureable value.

Note: Dorian Sweet is a keynote speaker at Econsultancy's October 6 Peer Summit in New York.

Dorian Sweet

Published 21 September, 2010 by Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is VP/Executive Creative Director of TrueAction and a contributor for Econsultancy.

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Comments (3)


Dom Collier, Senior Consultant at Blue Latitude

True - ish; cf. and cp. this agency focused pice from a couple of years ago:

"Today’s agencies fail to help marketers engage with consumers, who, as a result, are becoming less brand-loyal and more trusting of each other. To turn the tide, marketers will move to the Connected Agency - one that shifts: from making messages to nurturing consumer connections; from delivering push to creating pull interactions; and from orchestrating campaigns to facilitating conversations. Over the next five years, traditional agencies will make this shift; they will start by connecting with consumer communities and will eventually become an integral part of them" - Forrester, Feb 2008, The Connected Agency.

Interesting and (self-evidently) provocative piece, thanks, but some really contentious statements here too, not least:

"advertising has been the only art in our modern culture that has survived commoditization"

WTF? That's like saying

"prostitution is the only form of love that has survived commoditization."

about 6 years ago

Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet, Managing Director at TrueAction Europe

Ha! Great comment Dom. The statement about advertising and art is a broader one. Fine art used to make us reflect and see things in humanity more clearly. Advertising became the child of that notion and a lot more powerful. Now our attentions are elsewhere and in fact in many places. Reflection is now a expository activity and much less about introspection than before. So in many ways advertising has been passed by in our new culture of media consumption.

about 6 years ago



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about 5 years ago

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