The Traditional Agency Is Dead. . . Again

So I read this piece on Huffington Post today that’s declaring once again, data is the path to successful advertising. Which is missing a recent trend heralded by P&G, Unilever and Restoration Hardware, but hey, the quants gotta stay relevant, right? Here’s a little excerpt to get you in the mood:

“[D]ata is just the beginning of the journey towards better advertising.  Once assembled, the data must be properly studied with the help of a skilled data scientist.  These data specialists are adept at navigating a complex process that is both art and science.  The advent of machine learning has allowed researchers to identify highly complex patterns that would never have been possible through traditional market research.”

Let that sink in. Now, go read Bob Hoffman’s book BadMen, (go buy it now).

The “traditional advertising agency” is not dead. It was hijacked. I witnessed it. Viewed the dazzling display of data become more important than anything else. Especially creative.

I love a great headline. Beautiful images. Simple but compelling copy. The writer of the HuffPo piece made the case that creative focus is only to…win awards.

“People wanted Clio Awards rather than advertising that drove awareness, interest, and ultimately sales.”


“No longer will brands be satisfied with the vagaries of a creative-dictated process.”

Creative Bad. Data Good.

As someone who subscribes to too many magazines (real paper, yes!); watches more TV than I should; and refuses to turn off my ad-blocker on my laptop and phone – even if that means missing a journalistic masterpiece; I can guarantee you that I get all of my advertising contact with – wait for it – off-line advertisers. And most of the advertising I view (those eyeballs that are oh-so-valuable online) is in magazines and newspapers.

Data didn’t make me pick up a copy of Garden & Gun. The title alone was compelling. Who knew?

I’ve worked in and around advertising for more than 40 years. I was a creative way back and I quietly hung up my T-square when I had the opportunity – or privilege – to work with stunning creatives who made me realize I had no business being at the drawing board. I’m more than happy to clear the path so they can do their work.

Great creatives take words and images that compel me to want that thing. A broad reach introduces people who may have never heard of a product, or an idea. Those individuals would be missed altogether by the targeting methods used today, which are driven by data scientists using machine learning that has identified their highly complex patterns.

Like going online and looking for White Keds. Amazon, BusinessInsider and Twitter all keep me informed of white sneakers. Thanks.

Now, is that advertising that is driving awareness, interest and ultimately sales? No. No it is not. It’s bugging the hell out of me.