Not so long ago, creative directors from top UK advertising agencies took part in a poll at the Cannes Advertising Festival. The question they were asked was: “What impact will digitalisation have upon your craft?” The overwhelming majority replied: “Business as usual.” Are they right?
I believe that consumers’ behaviour towards media is anything but “business as usual”. Today’s media landscape offers consumers a far richer, more immersive experience than ever before. Consequently they are engaging with media more often, for longer and in a greater variety of ways. However, diverse media environments demand bespoke creative solutions: in the digital era, one size does not fit all.
The advertising industry has everything to gain from this development. So it’s very disturbing that, as a recent Marketing Society survey indicated, many marketers believe that “traditional” advertising is on the decline.
Our clients know all about changes in consumer behaviour, but there is little evidence that creative agencies are adapting quickly enough to account for this. For instance, only two creative agencies were represented at the recent industry forum on interactive TV advertising, even though three-quarters of the 130 Sky clients that have used the medium are returning to use it again. However, interactive advertising has become the fastest-growing sector of the TV market in spite of agencies’ indifference.
The key issue is knowledge or, in too many cases, lack of it. Advertising agencies (long separated from their media cousins) are not sufficiently equipped to take full advantage of the growth in digital media. We all must take some blame, given the lack of dialogue between disciplines, but my experience is that many agency executives do not have multi-channel TV at home and so do not fully appreciate its impact on the public. As penetration creeps towards 50 per cent of households, it is amazing how many ad agency chiefs still have their heads stuck in the sand with the same “business as usual” attitude.
First the knowledge gap needs to be closed. Clients must ask themselves how much their agencies know about their target consumers and the way they consume media. This is not an issue for media specialists alone, but a critical question for all creatives now that fragmentation has made campaign stand-out more difficult than in the past.
Media owners also must play their part by making concerted efforts to make agencies fully aware of the opportunities (and pitfalls) available to them.
Successful brand communication is not about supply any longer, it is about demand: what do consumers want from us and which media do they consume passionately? Without this understanding, creative agencies will struggle to resolve client communication issues and reverse the growing pessimism about their craft.
The full-service agency may never make a comeback. But even if it doesn’t, creative agencies must still learn to understand consumers’ media behaviour. It is fundamental to maximising the effectiveness of their product in a rapidly changing media environment.
Agostino Di Falco is head of planning and strategy at Sky Media