Unstuck from the Middle

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

For all of the news about Google’s implicit threat to evict ad agencies from their traditional role as go-betweens for clients and their commercial content, now publishers of all types are getting in on the game.

The Conde Nast New Media Group has produced a print spread for LG Electronics featuring director Edward Zwick. It’s utterly forgettable in the same way the other famous people slice-of-life vignettes always are, like those from American Express. It’s visually about a guy who looks bored, or was dumb enough to bring along his TV set-up on a camping trip. The header — Life is Good — is generic to the point of being an insult, and I think a T-shirt company already uses the line.

What’s notable isn’t that a publisher could produce utter dreck just like an ad agency would if given the chance, but rather that it seized the chance in the first place.

If they can’t act as the middleman between clients and ads, whether digital or otherwise, what’s left for the ad agencies to do?

WPP’s Mindshare bought the space, and publicly blathered on with the usual nonsense about Conde being "a premium brand." It seems to have also successfully convinced its client to believe that such inert content makes a "human, emotional connection to the brand." But, ultimately, the campaign relegates the agency to the role of real estate broker, hoping to sell a house that has already been built and decorated. 

So it was in the middle of this transaction, but it sure doesn’t sound like a long-term job description. I can already hear David Ogilvy rolling over in his grave. 

Play out the trend to its logical conclusion, and you get something like this:

  • The middlemen get squeezed out of the steps separating clients and the delivery of marketing content
  • All costs are reduced thereby, so there exists a truly efficient system to conceive and place ads (this is the Google model, as the ad content will be based on presumed behavioral clicking predictions gleaned from past clicks)
  • Once the transformation is complete, we discover a deeper, more fundamental problem:

People don’t relate to brands in the psychobabble, ephemeral ways that we once thought (or hoped) that they did. 

Ads that don’t do anything to directly impact sales, whether immediately or casually somehow, are still ineffective, no matter how efficiently they’re delivered.

The LG experiment is not an example of a shining, new future for advertising, but rather proof that agencies could be well on the way to becoming unnecessary middlemen. Google and its brethren stealing money to buy search terms and clicks. Publishers creating ads directly for clients. 

Not an auspicious start to 2009 for the agency biz. It doesn’t bode well for the long term, just as the stupid ad itself will do absolutely nothing for LG in the short-term.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/01/unstuck-from-the-middle.html