The future of advertising

The future of advertising

Yeah…

So James and I have spent quite a long time struggling with a coherent positioning statement for Pumpernickle. In a nutshell, what do we do?

Back in prehistory, when Andrew and Duncan set up Offworld, it seemed simple–we make websites was a statement that most people could understand. It was also (or so we thought) a comparatively well defined offering: you type a thing called a URL in a thing called a browser and voilà a website was what you saw :-)

Only now it isn’t quite so simple (actually, with hindsight, it wasn’t simple then–Offworld would still be trading if it were).

Over the years, senior people at companies like Pumpernickle consulted at board level with a number of clients, offering advice about all sorts of issues from technology, marketing, usability, human-computer-interface, advertising, internal process management and so on.

During the first few ‘boom’ years of the commercial internet, people like James and me where asked for advice that we were empirically not qualified to supply. We had no degree in IT, no MBA or other management experience or skill, and still, the CTO of General Electric sent his right-hand-man to chat us up at a big dinner-do for suppliers. This sort of surreal rendez-vous kept happening for a few years (at one point, a client had my head insured for 10 Million pounds and at another I was advising the head of a British nuclear utility on what sort of companies to buy) only to stop when the industry imploded in 2000.

I mention all this to put our current predicament in perspective.

While we don’t have the specific degree or certification, and we certainly don’t have the sort of single-career expertise of someone who has manned a certain type of lathe his whole life, the advice we can offer is still as valuable as it was. We can help people save money on digital communication. We can suggest activities that will get a brand noticed, trusted or loved by the right audience. We can hold a CTO’s hand while he goes shopping for new toys and we know who to call if he needs some tech specifics. We can help non-profits, charities and underfunded councils build exciting interactive tools that will engage and usefully serve their constituents, and we can do this on a shoe-string.

These are all useful skills to offer, but put together they don’t make a coherent offering. In a weird way, our specialty is that we’re ‘general practitioners’.

It’s now four years since the big internet crash and the marketplace has thinned somewhat. Most of the smaller ‘generalist’ agencies have closed, the larger ones like Agency.com have refined their offering to be much less ‘catch-all’ and more tightly integrated with the ‘specialist’ services supplied by other companies in the same group (media, marketing, integration, advertising).

I was having a look at Agency’s website to see how they solved the position problem. Their site used to be a soup of services, part business consultancy part marketing strategist part IT consultancy. The skills they started with are still there–though I suspect the headcount has shrunk a bit–but the new site lists a brief menu of services (online marketing, website design, user testing, intranets and portals, content management).

The list is almost humble. It’s almost apologetic You know, our chaps have consulted at exalted levels, but we’re happy to just make you a little website or even Why of course we’d be happy to review the usability of your site even though you had it done by another supplier. Once upon an internet boom their site was all e-enabling and redefining your business and let’s have six grand just to have our discovery team look at your project.

Just for a laugh, here’s a quote a friend at another big interactive agency sent me (probably feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days…) – this is a quote to review a project, ie to scope it, as in at the end of this process, the customer still doesn’t have a website, you know, not even a proper feasibility study: Estimated costs for discovery phase two: client services: 30,000; strategic services: 3,500; creative: 98,000; project management: 35,000; technology: 48,000; quality assurance: 1,750

Folks, that’s a grand total of two-hundred-and-sixteen-thousand pounds just to take a look at the project (wipes tears of laughter from eyes).

Anyway, where was I going with this…

Oh yeah, picking a position. Well, to date, the only one that excites me is to redefine the way the advertising marketplace works. Pumpernickle’s core creative proposition was that a client was always better doing something for his (potential) customer rather than just saying something. This clicks with the coming of age of the commercial internet, but the problem is trying to convince people who are used to spending a budget on one thing to spend it on another.

So, here’s my ad industry wish-list:

  • Make less traditional above the line advertising
  • Charge clients less, but take a much bigger chunk of their budget
  • Instead of spending the money on media, spend it on services that benefit people
  • Manage the process of who makes which services in a creative and engaging way

So in a full-circular kind of way, we’ll have unqualified people (admen) giving advice they can’t possibly expect to be taken seriously giving (suggesting great business ideas to their clients).

In a way, this isn’t new at all. Name that creative: “We just can’t afford dirty ashtrays. Or half-empty gas tanks. Or worn wipers. Or unwashed cars. Or low tires. Or anything less than seat-adjusters that adjust. Heaters that heat. Defrosters that defrost” :-)