Agencies Agency Leadership VML

What’s really driving adland’s evolution in 2024? The universal quest for simplicity

By Jon Cook, Global chief executive officer



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January 12, 2024 | 7 min read

As of the start of 2024, newly-merged VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson are officially, simply, ‘VML’. Here, the WPP outfit’s global chief executive says that simplicity is driving more than just consolidation.

Two pencils on a yellow background

What's ahead for adland in 2024? Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity says VML's Jon Cook / Joanna Kosinska via Unsplash

Occam’s razor in colloquial terms is this: Fewer parts are typically better than many. Simple is typically better than complex.

Most would agree that, in almost every situation, everywhere, if we can keep things simple – without leaning into our all-too-human tendencies to overcomplicate seemingly everything – we’ll be better off. Our teams. Our clients. Our calendars.

As someone who studied journalism in college, it was drilled into me that simplicity reigns. Five well-chosen words are better than 10. Adjectives frequently aren’t necessary. Adverbs are almost always useless. Repetition is good for the sake of creating impact and remarkability, but otherwise, get to the point as efficiently as you can.

The same is true for agency life. We must increasingly get to the point, efficiently.

What’s driving consolidation?

As marketing needs have evolved, so have agencies. Impressively, top agencies have grown in scale, range and depth of in-network capabilities. They have become more capable, but also more complex to navigate and manage. The expansion of agencies has created new friction points. Unfortunately, that’s the exact thing brand-side marketers don’t want.

A recent study found that brands are increasingly interested in centralizing their agency partnerships. Of the more than 70 multinational marketing organizations surveyed, one in four said they plan to consolidate media, creative, data and technology agencies within the next three years. More than a third said they are looking for simplification through working with fewer partners.

That’s why I’m confident that simplicity will increasingly drive the agency evolution unfolding before us. Yes, it’s consolidation, but far too many will become hung up on that part. It’s not about consolidation for the sake of it. It’s about simplification in pursuit of stronger creative output and smarter, more effective business results.

Simplicity everywhere

Skeptical? Look at the AI revolution feeding into everything, everywhere. An era of hyper-activated efficiency has arrived, and ChatGPT has managed to do more than just steal the limelight. It’s caused businesses of all shapes and sizes to rethink their operations. Research shows that 94% of companies are looking to consolidate their tech stacks within the next year.

The speed of innovation and evolution of our models will undoubtedly increase. As fast as it feels like things are moving right now, today’s rate of change is the slowest you’ll experience for the rest of your life – which means figuring out how to make the right strategic investments and remain ahead of business-critical evolutions. Change is top of mind for every executive and category. And increasingly, change is taking the form of simplicity.

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History, of course, is bound to repeat itself. Advertising mergers are nothing new (see IPG’s takeover of SSC&B and Ted Bates & Company’s merger with Campbell-Mithun and, a little closer to home, VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson joining to create VML). Even Publicis and Omnicom almost tied the knot back in 2013.

While simplification, streamlining, and efficiency enable clients to have easier access to a wider range of services and resources, it would not be happening if it didn’t also result in more impactful, contemporary, and effective creative output. If not, clients wouldn’t stand for it.

Yes, marketers across sectors are looking for fusion and the subsequent possibilities that advanced integrated capabilities can unlock — but not at the expense of simplicity, ease of navigation, and enhanced creativity. That’s why simplicity will be at the heart of agency evolution.

It’s simply the truth.

Agencies Agency Leadership VML

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