Five headlines about advertising you won’t read in 2018 (but probably should)

As we have wrapped up 2017 and are looking toward 2018, everyone is rushing to write what the year will hold in store.

Prognosticators are typing away, writing the things they’re sure you’ll hear about in the upcoming year. So I’ve decided not to do that. Instead, I’ve decided to write about five things you most definitely won’t hear about this year (but you probably should).

These are the things that will be felt but unspoken in 2018, for a variety of different reasons. Maybe the POV isn’t trendy enough or the idea isn’t “cool” enough to be openly discussed in our tragically hip industry. So, without further ado, here are five things we will all feel, but will be too embarrassed to talk about in the upcoming year.

Traditional advertising works

Heresy, you say. Traditional advertising doesn’t work, you say. Only digital, on-demand, personalized, programmatic, one-to-one advertising works, you say. But you’re wrong. Nothing builds a brand better than traditional advertising.

If you’re playing the long game (a luxury that few brands have the ability to do), invest in traditional. Nothing changes perception like TV. Don’t get me wrong, digital is great for lots of things, but if your BRAND is the problem, traditional is your answer (assuming you have the money to invest).

Most agency billings are digital these days (ours included), but I feel like we’re scared to talk about another arrow in our quiver; an arrow that penetrates the masses in ways that digital isn’t able to (at least not today’s definition of digital). These days, no CMO ever gets in trouble for recommending digital, but sometimes they do so at the expense of the only medium that can actually fix their problem.

We have too much data

WHAT? You can never have too much data! The more granular, the better, right? Wrong. Data can often cloud our better judgement — and sacrifice instinct at the altar of 1’s and 0’s. It is sold as the great panacea that will fix all of our marketing woes, but data for data’s sake is a bad solution.

So many brands have piles of data, but they don’t know what to do with it. I had a CMO say to me once that she appreciated our approach because we presented an opinionated analysis of the data, not just the data itself. “The last thing I need is another deck,” she said, “I need an answer.”

The problem is that data is everywhere. And if we choose the wrong data artifact to follow as truth, we risk ruining everything. Data-maestro Nate Silver titled his book The Signal and The Noise, and it is the best book title ever. As data piles up, the trick will be tuning out (and wading through) the noise to hone in on the true signal.

It's possible to work too hard

NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE! Weekends don’t matter. A week is 7 boxes on a calendar, all of which should be filled. That’s how we do it in advertising, right?

Wrong again.

A tired mind is a non-creative mind. You can’t whip a person to be creative. Great thinking keeps its own timetable. Brilliance happens when it wants to…not when you tell it to.

We take time away from the office very seriously, because we think it makes time in the office more productive. Plus, if you’re just working for working’s sake, you’re not doing an idea any favors. Odds are, you’re overthinking it and rounding off all of the sharp edges that made the idea great in the first place.

Einstein once said that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The same construct applies to maximizing your output and contributions in advertising: you should work as hard as you have to, but not harder.

The AOR model isn't broken

Everyone is building their business off of projects right now. And that is all well and good. But I’d like to offer that the AOR approach is still the way to go. A good AOR relationship benefits the clients and the agencies equally.

The highlights of the pros of an AOR contract? Agencies can staff appropriately and people working on the business will get to know the business inside and out. I can’t tell you how many times in this industry my best thinking has popped up when I wasn’t expecting it. Brilliance happens when a prepared mind encounters some type of stimulus. If your brand isn’t top of mind, you will never benefit from this type of serendipitous brilliance.

I liken project work vs. AOR work to an agency using staff creatives vs. freelance creatives. When we use staff creatives, we nail it every time. We are collaborative and inventive and we know how to work well together. When we hire freelancers, we never quite nail it (at least not to our standards). We spend awhile getting to know each other. We spend too much time figuring out how to work together. And while we might get great thinking, there is almost always a disconnect. It doesn’t feel genuine and authentic…it doesn’t quite feel like we did it. I advocate for using staff creatives, but I can only do that if your AOR relationship allows me to staff them properly.

Advertising doesn't have a business problem; we have a payment problem

Lots is written about advertising being an awful business model. And I don’t disagree. But really, I believe that more than a bad business model, we have a bad payment model.

We have, since the beginning of time, allowed clients to lead us on a race to the bottom on pricing. We give away our differentiated value creation for free and try to charge for the commoditized stuff. It doesn’t make any sense!

I can’t count the number of times we have done work that McKinsey would have charged millions of dollars for and we give it away for free to try and “win the business.” What is “the business” we’re trying to win?

We have done this to ourselves. We are ALL so bad at pricing and payments. Advertising isn’t dead. That’s absurd to even say. Ever since cavemen learned to draw on cave walls, advertising has existed. And it will still exist even after we have learned to project ads on the moon. What we do isn’t dying, but how we get paid for it most certainly is. As you think about re-inventing your agency, think less about re-inventing your process and more about how you get clients to see real value in what you do.

There you go. The upside down of 2018 listicles. I hope 2018 is great for all of you…marketers and agencies alike. I hope you produce perception-changing traditional advertising campaigns. I hope you focus less on the quantity of data and more on the quality of the data. I hope you work smarter, not harder. I hope you come up with great thinking because of a long-standing AOR relationship. And I hope you figure out a way to get paid in a way that is commensurate with the value you provide. Here’s to 2018!

Joe Parrish is partner and chief creative officer at The Variable. He tweets @joeparrish

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