Thursday, February 16, 2012

Neophilia and the modern advertising agency.

It wasn't long ago that most large traditional agencies were asleep at the wheel or, worse, simply in denial when it came to work that didn't involve print, broadcast, outdoor or radio. As computers and the internet became mass--this has only happened in the past ten years--a host of new digitally-minded agencies sprung to life. They would fill the void created by the blind pig-headedness of traditional agencies.

What happened at the most macro level, in short, was this. The agency "landscape" was occupied by a Manichean struggle between two forces: the old pitted against the new. Manichean, of course, was a religion back some centuries ago that saw that the world was a constant winner-take-all struggle between the forces of absolute light and absolute darkness. There were no shades of gray. Or even Grey. And most agencies, too, adopted this world view. They either embraced traditional as a shibboleth or hung their fedoras on new media.

The language adopted by each side was in many cases vicious. Traditionalists disparaged Digitals as "tools and tactics." And Digitals lashed back with the oh-so-familiar epithet "_________________ is dead."

In fact when, belatedly, some Digitals became leaders in newly integrated agencies--agencies that still derived millions in revenue from traditional media, they would nevertheless continue issuing proclamations stating that, for instance, "television is dead."

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

The black and white struggle between old and new spilled over into every aspect of the advertising industry. Almost overnight "new" "channels" were suddenly valued in the billions. We were told they were on the cusp (always on the cusp) of changing everything. Awards shows extolled ads of dubious merit simply because they did something no one had ever done before. Ignoring the notion that maybe they were never done because they made no sense.

New, neophilia, became an end in itself. The search wasn't for the new thing, it wasn't even, in the words of Michael Lewis a search for the new, new thing. It was rather a quest for the new new new new new new thing.

And old, as in the old people who control 77% of the spending power in the United States were ignored or even worse, excoriated.

The language in the industry became barbed and vitriolic. The middle ground became elusive or no man's land. The world became an all or nothing proposition a world of absolutes.


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