What Prince Can Teach Us About the New Advertising World

The 4/25/11 issue of Advertising Age, “The Agency Issue,” has several articles about why “Agency” has become a dirty word.  The lead article claims that the phrase “We’re not an ad agency,” with quotation marks, gets 16,500 results on Google.  What a dichotomy.  While “Mad Men” is all the rage, there are a lot of former “Agency-types” who don’t want to be in a category of business called an “Agency.”

It’s hard to be in marketing without having worked in, worked with or competed against an advertising agency.  I’ve engaged in all these activities.  What the change in nomenclature signals to me is that marketing products or services for another company isn’t necessarily different that it used to be, but to be contemporary, the moniker has to change.

Yes, when digital marketing debuted a few years ago, brand managers were willing to throw out the old, traditional forms of media and usher in the new.   Social media, mobile media, guerilla marketing and all the other new methods of reaching target consumers mandated digital or social media “experts” rather than creative directors and account managers from agencies.  So digital agencies sprang up to cater to the proliferating array of new mediums and fractionated consumer targets. 

Putting together a marketing plan with a small set of marketing-mix choices used to much easier than weighing emerging media that seems to evolve every day with no measurement tools to gauge its effectiveness.  However, we shouldn’t miss the crux that the essentials of advertising are still in place.  Idea development, communication,  and particularly strategy are all the disciplines that agencies–and now brand consultancies, idea companies, and the “we’re not an ad agency” companies–are experts in, regardless of the medium chosen.  It’s like calling a prune a dried plum.  It looks the same, tastes the same, but somehow sheds the old-school, “Not your Father’s Oldsmobile” attitude, without actually becoming a kumquat.

While “agency” may be old-model thinking, coming up with a new term that denotes marketing professionals that work in partnership with client companies will be complicated.  Perhaps we should call in Prince who has already had experience in this area, to help us develop a new term or pictograph for the Agency previously know as…

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