Will we need copywriters and art directors in the post-advertising era?
Bob Garfield has written a reasonably good article in Advertising Age called “Future May Be Bright, But It’s Apocalypse Now.” It basically goes medium by medium and shows how current business models are being destroyed and not replaced with anything that generates the amount of profits we have become used to. Online advertising revenue, for example, has clearly failed to deliver on the scale that is necessary to foot the bill for the free media consumers crave. Google, for example, paid $1.65 billion for YouTube two and a half years ago. In 2008 YouTube generated $90 million in ad revenue. Granted, it’s enough to bend over and pick up if you saw it lying in the street, but it represents an extremely poor ROI for Google.
What Garfield doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about is what this will mean for the future of advertising agencies. If ads as we know them won’t be able to generate anything like the revenue agencies are used to, it stands to reason that agencies will turn to producing things that aren’t ads. We may find ourselves focused on creating content, entertainment, and tools that consumers genuinely need. Instead of merely selling our time by the hour–a model I have always despised because it penalizes skill and experience–we may create reusable marketing solutions that remain our intellectual property.
Moreover, if we are moving into a post-advertising era, agencies will need to begin employing a very different kind of person. As Neil Postman said, every tool has an ideological bias, and at the most basic level copywriters and art directors are tools of the advertising industry in its current form. The problem going forward is that if you continue to point the same tools at an entirely new type of problem, they will produce “solutions” that clients find irrelevant. Instead of writers and art directors, we may be hiring improvisational comics and set designers. Instead of account planners and media directors, we may be hiring filmmakers and game developers. The job will no longer be about creating advertising, but about creating branded or even sponsored marketing solutions that consumers will choose to experience because they fill a genuine need.
I encourage you to take a minute to do a simple exercise. Look at your business card. Read your title. Then ask yourself if anyone is going to need you to do that job in three years.