"The Ad Landscape has Changed and That’s a Good Thing"

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Atomic CEO Jon Goulding looks at the brave new world that the ad industry will become after the coronavirus pandemic
"The Ad Landscape has Changed and That’s a Good Thing"

Atomic CEO Jack Goulding looks at how the ad industry will change during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The ad landscape is changing. And change means opportunity—for those in a position to take it. After what will one day be remembered as one of the most important years in advertising history, we find ourselves in a brave new world which looks radically different from the one it has slowly replaced.

We can say with certainty that the era of ‘brand purpose’ is officially over. Over the past decade, brands have scrambled to identify an admirable raison d’être, often with genuinely good intentions in mind. Campaigns driven by purpose were not necessarily unsuccessful; in fact there was plenty of great purpose-driven work. But as brands strove to place purpose above pounds and pence, consumer trust in those same brands, and in brands across the board, in every industry, was in steady decline. The celebration of a higher purpose began to look a bit cynical. So the ‘greater good’ is out. A more hard-headed, commercial outlook is in. Agencies will no longer be exalting the higher calling of the brands they work with. Those brands must now show themselves to consumers to be providing them with something useful—and the success of certain companies despite the scandals that have befallen them seems to be proof of this. 

But many of the traditional, established agencies are out, too—or at least looking to merge. The mergers and take-overs taking place with rising frequency in recent years suggests that traditional businesses are playing for time. But that’s no guarantee that the masterplan they need to negotiate the new landscape will materialise: a traditional working culture changes about as fast as a turning oil tanker. In at least some cases, companies are simply kicking the can down the road. Their consolidation efforts only exaggerate the weaknesses that forced them to consolidate in the first place.

Into the void rush modern, agile agencies that differ in important ways from the established counterparts whose market share they plan to take, and are already taking. Like challengers in any industry, they are fighting against the establishment, often defining themselves in opposition to that establishment. They build their working cultures around a ‘why’, not a ‘what’, making adaptability part of their very DNA. They are digitally, socially or content-led, or otherwise revolutionary in their output.

They also intuit what has become a truth in this new advertising era: that to get more out of less, and to be successful going forward, agencies have to connect with audiences across the whole customer journey. Perhaps most important of all is the mindset of agencies like these. They’re hungry and competitive, having come of age at a time when many agencies were in retreat. They understand that without graft, even passion and ability will not get you where you want to go.

But these agencies also understand almost on instinct that in advertising, the only truly unforgivable sin is to be boring. Combine this commitment never to test the patience of your audience with a kind of brutal authenticity—a supreme self-confidence in what you stand for—and you have the raw ingredients for long-term success. Unless established agencies can radically alter their mindsets and their approach, they will fall further and further away. And smaller agencies of the type I’ve just described will rapidly fill the abandoned space.

Some will no doubt view this sea-change as undesirable. Others will point to low consumer confidence and global volatility as reasons to be pessimistic. I think the opposite. These changes are overdue. Innovation is the lifeblood of industry. Faster, better, cheaper will be music to the ears of the clients we represent. Commercial pressure may squeeze out of agencies excellent creative work. Necessity is the mother of invention. And, in time, the mental fitness that defines teams in the new breed of agency will come to inform the working culture of the industry on the whole. And that will set the tone for a productive next few years.

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Atomic London, 11 days ago