While shocking and a bit gratuitous, Ginsberg’s response to the introduction of the IBM System/360 computer can be viewed as an underreaction to what computers (and technology, in the broader sense) would eventually do to the advertising industry.
The agency world I’m in today barely resembles the mythical one of Don, Roger, and Peggy. However, the extent of this transformation shouldn’t be news to anyone who has been paying attention. In the era of families gathering around the TV and singing along to brand jingles, advertising agencies were kingmakers. But we no longer live in that broadcast-centric world. Technology has given people far more control over what they see, think, and ultimately, buy.
This upheaval hasn’t just fundamentally remade agencies, it’s also shortened the lifespans of the advertisers themselves. When Harry Crane first switched on that computer, the average S&P company lasted 60 years. Today, it’s just 18. Commodification, ever increasing customer expectations, and the death of mass audiences have made it harder for pre-Internet companies to stay in business. Giants who couldn’t disconnect from their routines or imagine a world that would no longer need them have been beaten, bought, or folded into oblivion.
By the time I started out in the industry in the early 90’s, the glamour and romance presented on TV and in movies was long gone. The industry was full of mediocrity and its influence on both business and culture was already waning. Agency life was uninspiring so I, like many others, left. Fortunately, my dissatisfaction with that world coincided with the emergence and rise of the Internet.
The Internet and digital media are what brought me back to the agency world, but it’s not an industry that in any way resembles the one I left. In fact, the opportunities and influence of agencies driving digital transformation resemble and even exceed the very influence and excitement of advertising’s hey-day that appealed to me as a kid. Brands are turning to agencies to help them interpret the insanely complex world they have to do business in, and agencies have the ability to not only handle marketing functions on behalf of their clients, but to fundamentally transform their businesses to compete in the 21st century.
For those who are brave enough to commit to one, today’s big idea can be far more consequential than it used to be. Slogans might be catchy, but they don’t transform businesses. Campaigns may sell products, but they don’t disrupt industries. The opportunity to use technology to change the way people think and to redefine an industry is now much greater. We have the ability to impact people’s lives through our work in far more meaningful ways than just an ad ever could.
All that said, one thing remains the same: brands need agencies that are willing to help them do something bold. The only difference is that now, the stakes are higher and the consequences deeper. It’s definitely a job that requires both nipples.
Michael Koziol is managing director with Huge.
Editor's note: This Sunday marks the end of the "Mad Men" Era. Not the one it portrayed, but the one it hooked, influenced and shaped in ways we're still figuring out. To honor the finale of one of TV's great series, we've asked thought leaders from across the industry to share their views on how far we've come, and where we might go from here. The columns will run all this week, culminating in a Twitter party with some exciting industry figures during the final episode on Sunday. Join us and them with the hashtag #MadMenCamp.