Adland mustn't let factions speak louder than words

My hope is that as the final series of Mad Men drew to a close earlier this month, it also marks the end of the Mad Men vs Math Men, creatives are from Venus, technologies are from Mars, left brain, right brain narrative that has been running for almost as long.

For a show that has never pretended to be anything other than a slick period drama, the fact that Mad Men has so often been used as a cultural wedge to represent division in our industry today is as mysterious as it is myopic.

It is long since it made sense to view digital as a separate discipline. Referencing the math as a foil to mad, where, by definition, digital is not "creative", is anachronistic. Digital has evolved from an executional channel discipline into a way of thinking and, the more that creative technologists work alongside technical creatives, the less the analogy stands up to scrutiny.

You’ll find no rallying cry for digital and data here; at least, not one that champions those elements as distinct from the value that creativity, in its broadest sense, brings to our clients.

'It's beholden on us to show that our industry is neither 'mad' nor 'math' but a powerful hybrid of qualities'

My point is this: advertising deserves its place alongside music, film and games as a British creative success story. I do wonder, though, if we are selling ourselves a little short – both in terms of the economic impact of a business that extends far beyond the £20 billion "spend" reported by the Advertising Association, and in our ability to encourage a new generation of talent to join the industry.

SapientNitro recently carried out research that showed there is a €67 billion opportunity in Europe alone for agencies to lead brands’ digital transformation. That might sound a little distant from how we traditionally define advertising but, as many agencies from different backgrounds have evolved into agents for change, we find ourselves advising major global brands on how they can evolve to meet the needs of the connected consumer, and how they can avoid being Uber’d or Netflix’d by the next start-up.

Advertising is going through its own evolution; moving to become incredibly adept at understanding what people want and value, and at helping brands to digitally transform to meet those needs. Agencies across the industry are using their innate understanding of what makes people tick to create new ways for brands to be useful and relevant to people, wherever they are.

It’s beholden on us to set aside the factionalism and to help this government recognise that advertising is more than an arts-based career but one in which students of STEM subjects are as likely to be the next David Ogilvy. To show it that our industry is neither "mad" nor "math" but a powerful hybrid of qualities and capabilities that, together, adds real, transformational value to the UK economy.

Nigel Vaz is the managing director, Europe, at SapientNitro


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