MediaPost Publications – WPP's Sorrell: We Have Met the 'Frienemy' and It is Google – 12/05/2006

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by: David Polinchock

No disrespect to Mr., Sorrel, but his recent statements about seeing the frenemy and it being Google completely misses the challenges facing the advertising industry.  The correct statement should be "I have seen the frenemy — and it is us." 

And as I've been writing this piece, this came in —  MediaPost Publications – Agencies: Google Has Put A Target On Your Back  – 12/14/2006:

If there was any question in your mind about Google's quest to unseat ad agencies, they are answered in Kevin Delaney's piece reporting on Google's new ad programs, including its tests with video, radio, newspapers, television, click-to-call, cell phones, and online maps. This is in addition, of course, to Google's core search and contextual ad listings, which are already generating $10 billion in annualized revenue.

Google's intentions relative to its planned offerings for the world's marketers are quite well summed up by CEO Eric Schmidt, who tells the WSJ, "The long-term fantasy is we walk up to you and you give us, say, $10 million and we'll completely allocate it for you across different media and ad types."

And it was the perfect addition to the thoughts that I was already having.  That the advertising industry lost sight of who they were and that's why they're all afraid now!  Why do I say that?  Well, let me count the ways:

  • We became an industry focused on distribution and not about communication.  It shouldn't matter where we told our clients stories, just that we told them well. But that's not what happened, is it?  We became an industry obsessed with the way we communicated and not what we were saying.  We didn't always help our clients tell great stories, we simply told them where to place what passed as a story.
  • We got clients to shout NEW & IMPROVED packaging on their boxes, rather then actually help them create a product or service that was new and improved.  So we helped to train our audience not to expect anything from us and, not surprisingly, they don't.
  • We still get all excited when we hear someone talk about a new advertising tool and they say The best thing about this is that people are captured and they can't turn it off.  I say again, people in captivity will almost always revolt and, when they do, we should look out!  Why do we think we're facing such turmoil in the industry now — they revolution has already begun.  Yet, in many cases, instead of trying to create value for the audience, we simply continue to look for ways to protect our distribution channels!  And we wonder why people don't like advertising!
  • Just look at what we're doing to places like myspace, youtube, Second Life and all of the other places that we're just dumping our messaging, instead of helping to create a more compelling experience.  Do we really think people will keep visiting youtube when we force them to take our pre-roll?  No, like they've done for centuries, they'll just move onto the next place where they can get what they want without our commercial interruptions.
  • Ask yourself this, with everything you're working on right now, how many of your friends or family would be asking for what you're doing.  And if you weren't in the biz, how much of what you do would you find compelling? 
  • If you haven't read it, make sure you read Pattern Recognition to see one prediction of how WOM marketing might create a negative world in the future.  You can find an excerpt here Experience Manifesto: Some Random Thoughts on Advertising.
  • We're like lemmings, just following whatever the guy in front is doing.  We're so focused on tactics, that we never even stop to ask if it's on strategy.  That's one of the reasons that Wal-Mart is having so many problems — even before the whole Julie Roehm fiasco.  They were doing things (like the flogs and their version of myspace) that just didn't fit with who they were.  Well, and on top of that, they were seriously poorly done! 
  • In the early 90's, I was meeting with Tom Cuniff when he was at Dentsu and I'll never forget him pulling out an awards book from a few years earlier and railing that this is what creativity was for the ad industry.  Just looking at what's been done before and pretending it's new when we do it! Unfortunately, many agencies still do the same thing today.  And just look at the trades and what people are talking about to see how true this is.  We may have some new tools in our arsenal, but WOM is the oldest form of marketing there is.  Probably started right there with the world's oldest profession.  Hollywood & Vine?  Been done since the start of Hollywood!  And yet we pretend this is a brand new world with all new rules.  Interestingly, I think we've seen a shift back the way things were when it was a small world!  Either you deliver on your promise or we'll stop doing business with you.  That's what life was like when everything was done locally and tools like blogs and eopinions have brought us back full circle.  

    So, to the ad industry, I would say — Buck up and stop worrying about Google and all of the new distribution tools out there.  Distribution almost always becomes a commodity!  But great thinking and great storytelling will always retain high value.  We need to get back to the real skills that we have — delivering compelling messages on behalf of our clients.  Stop worrying about how you deliver the message.  Focus on helping your clients the most authentic, relevant and most compelling brand experiences possible.  That’s how we’ll create clients who appreciate what we do.  And Google will never be able to beat us at that game!

    AFTER A BRIEF PERIOD OF relative calm, Madison Avenue's Google angst resurfaced Monday when one of the world's top ad executives said he still isn't sure whether the online search giant is a "friend or foe" for the advertising industry. "Frienemy is the best way of describing Google," Martin Sorrell, chairman-CEO of WPP Group, the world's largest buyer of media said Monday during a luncheon keynote at UBS' media conference in New York. Sorrell said WPP executives coined the term after meeting recently with Google's top managers on a strategic planning session, which also revealed that WPP is not Google's single largest customer, spending more than $150 million a year on Google's search and advertising platforms.

    Sorrell, meanwhile, noted that it's not simply Google that is putting competitive pressure on traditional agencies, but other new and emerging technology solutions for creating advertising and planning and buying media. He cited WPP's own recent investment in Spot Runner, an online advertising placement firm that Interpublic, CBS and others also have invested in.

    During a recent meeting with WPP's senior management team, Spot Runner President-CEO Nick Grouf demonstrated the ease of use of the system, creating an ad for WPP client Century 21 and planning and placing its media buy all within five minutes via a personal computer.

    "Nick made an ad, planned it and bought it in front of people in five minutes," recalled Sorrell. When Sorrell asked Grouf if the same process could be scaled for big advertisers, and Grouf replied, "yes," Sorrell said, "You could see the blood draining away from the people who run our businesses."

    Sorrell said he expected to see other entrepreneurs to develop similar technology solutions making advertising and media services more turnkey and easier to use, which will put even greater pressure on Madison Avenue's traditional business models, though he noted that digital and interactive media are WPP's fastest growing segment, and that he wished it was an even bigger part of its revenue stream.

    Link: MediaPost Publications – WPP's Sorrell: We Have Met The 'Frienemy' And It Is Google – 12/05/2006.

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