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Shakin’ That Asset: Advertising’s New Arms Race



Laura Swinton on agencies, post houses, tech giants and more heading into battle

Shakin’ That Asset: Advertising’s New Arms Race

Calling Doctor Strangelove, it’s time to stop worrying and learn to love the advertising craziness. There’s a new arms race underway in the ad industry. But this time around it’s not about how crammed your trophy cabinet, how obscure and hip your references, how megawatt the star you manage to rope into speaking at Cannes or how many Oculus Rift headsets you have cluttering up the creative department. No, right now companies from post houses to agency to tech giants are warming up to fight it out in the arena of asset management.

I know, I know, hot ‘n’ sexy it ain’t. But as the agencies and prod cos fall about trying to find the most pioneering new platforms and technologies to play with, the most game-changing developments could be those that transform how we get work done within the industry. 

For decades work was stored physically, left to decay or get lost or helpfully collect up dust particles. At this year’s Adfest I found myself chatting to AdAsia editor Allein Moore, who is currently researching a book on the history of Asian advertising. He has been digging around in agency archives with varying degrees of success to find work which is often faded and fragile. A couple of years ago Creative Review ran a feature that revealed many of the 80s’ most famous print and outdoor campaigns had been carefully archived as splodgy photocopies. Work was shared physically too – couriers whizzing to edit houses with tapes last minute was a common occurrence even in the mid 2000s when I helped put together a DVD at a previous publication. 

These days, though, there’s a rash of hopefuls promising to change the way industry shares, stores and collaborates. As the phrase goes, ‘there’s an app for that’. Different pockets of the industry are approaching the challenge from slightly different angles too. Distribution companies looking to streamline processes and get involved with clients and agencies further upstream. Companies that furnish Hollywood feature films with similar tools are looking to advertising as a new potential growth area. Post houses like The Ambassadors start off creating a bespoke tool for one client, before discovering that there’s a wider appetite for what they’ve invented. There are the media-sharing stalwarts like Wiredrive looking to build and expand their offerings. Even talent agencies like Talent Partners are expanding their reach in the area, with a view to providing top-to-tail logistics. And then there are the creative tech firms, the Adobes, hoping to bring their expertise to the mix. 

For some the focus is the dry but necessary business of managing assets, keeping track of them as they go off to be versioned for other markets or tweaked for different media, before filing them neatly in the cloud. For others it’s all about Base Camp-y style project management with a creative spin, allowing stakeholders or collaborators to chip in and suggest changes from the comfort of a smartphone.

Over the past two weeks as Matt and I have pounded the streets of New York from Midtown agencies to downtown post and production studios, we’ve heard a lot of people talk about the increasingly crowded landscape. Advertising, like nature, abhors a vacuum and I’ve lost count of the companies salivating at the prospect of sinking their teeth into the digital asset management pie. The more I’ve heard people talk, the more intrigued I’ve become – against my better judgement I might add, because on the surface it’s an area that first struck me as dull and duller. Of course, in an era when, as certain aging creatives delight in telling us, there are no new ideas and everything has been done before, it’s been interesting to stumble across virgin territory. There’s something admirably pioneering about the myriad of companies trying to figure out in their different ways, how to solve the problem.

For now there’s no obvious front runner so I’m curious to see how the situation will play out. Will there be one victor who emerges as the new industry standard? Or will different markets or sectors gravitate to slightly different functionalities? One thing’s for certain. Over the next few years, whoever wins the race will transform the way the industry creates and produces advertising.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:12:03 GMT