In this special piece to ArabAd, Jean-Claude Saade, Managing Director of Manifesto Consulting, tackles the challenges advertising has faced over the past three decades up till the digital revolution that many people believe is the end of advertising.
What Is Happening to Advertising?
Ever since we entered the advertising world we have witnessed multiple waves of change and challenges, but somehow, this industry has managed to preserve its economic and social purpose.
Advertising as a function has probably started with the early human societies, but has only taken a formal description and a clear role as a profession during the last century. Since then, advertising was affected by different trends and movements yet has evolved and adapted to different situations and innovations till the present time.
This is not meant to be a historical overview of advertising, rather a piece based on personal experience with some examples; change and challenges never seem to be the end of the line for advertising, just the trigger of a new era that calls for a new approach and fresh thinking.
The 1980s and 1990s were the era when the multinationals expanded and gradually brought all the global advertising brand names to almost every market. That was a huge phase of change but the end result was a significant development of the industry in terms of tools, systems, knowhow, and exposure.
The arrival of the Media Buying Units (MBUs) at the dawn of 21st century brought another painful transformation for the ad agencies as it took part of their income and allocated it under specialised “partner companies”.
Around 2005, another wave of specialised companies such as branding companies, design houses and other specialised brand consultancies took another bite from the traditional advertising pie.
These are not the only events that influenced advertising over the past 25 years. The industry was always affected by all the economic, social and political events globally and on a regional level.
The latest wave of change was triggered by the global and massive development of digital communication in its various forms (online, social & mobile). This trend has led to the creation of a new breed of specialised communication services and agencies.
However, this is just another phase of the brand communication saga. New services and technologies will keep arriving and will reorganise the relationship between brand owners and communication specialists. New innovations will always create new services and new types of communication agencies and in turn, it will make some older services less needed.
The continuous development and democratisation of digital tools will eventually offer advertisers more control over their communication activities and budgets.
What Is Lost from Advertising?
With every wave, the advertising industry has lost important elements and gained some other assets, proving above all it still has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve.
Over the years, advertising has lost important sources of income whether by relinquishing certain services to specialised companies or by losing the old comfortable compensation models and adopting more competitive and tight formulas.
Besides the financial question, advertising has lost a lot of its initial “mystique” and influence over clients and brands partly because of the creation of a plethora of consulting services often overlapping with the advertising expertise.
On the same level, advertising as a profession, has also lost much of its “cool factor” that for many decades has attracted the best talent to the industry – and sometimes the worst elements.
A lot of valuable assets were lost over the past three decades mainly because the industry does not have a coherent strategy in place to confront consecutive movements that threaten its existence.
What Is Left of Advertising?
At this stage of the game, it's going to be, once more, up to the advertising and communication players to sort out what the most viable options are and what makes them most valuable in the eyes of their clients and partners.
The various waves of change have deeply transformed how advertising and communication services are created and delivered but it did not affect the core role of this industry, its main contribution to the business community, to the economy and society at large. Technology and delivery channels will keep changing but the “core role” of communication continues to be relevant and in-demand.
If we were to take out all the tools, the techniques and the vehicles of communication that are subject to change, what will be left of the advertising business?
The answer is talent and expertise in generating ideas and delivering them in compelling and attractive ways regardless of production technique or the media channel used.
Once we redefine the role of advertising as “the business of generating communication ideas” we will see threats and opportunities in a totally different light and we will be more confident and enthusiastic about the future of the industry.
Technology, systems, and media channels will keep changing; and, ideas will remain necessary for business and the development of brands.
Ideas can move people, push sales, drive markets, and change the whole economy.
Ideas can build brands, connect consumers, and transcend cultures to create a shared understanding and a better way of life at a global level.
As long as advertising will be able to generate unique and compelling ideas it will be able to defy time and change to stay relevant today and tomorrow.