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May 21, 2009
Nothing is Dead, So Let’s Bury that Idea

Advertising, old media, and cockroaches -- they're all sticking around for a while

Last week at the CLIO awards, the worldwide Chief Creative Officer of an ad agency got up and pronounced, “advertising agencies are dead.” I’m sure the 16,000 worldwide employees and their blue-chip clients would be just delighted to learn that their million-dollar creative honcho thinks his agency is dead.

Now, what this CCO went on to explain, once he got past the headline-grabbing nugget, is that advertising agencies need to think beyond print ads and commercials. Which plenty of agencies, including mine, already do. But to this CCO, hyperbole and bullshit are obviously not dead.

Let’s take a look at what else isn’t dead:

TV is not dead.
No, Americans aren’t all glued to the same networks and screens at the same time, collectively taking in a sitcom like “All in the Family” the way they once did. But if you want your programs, you’ll have to pay for them one way or another, in money or attention. Even Hulu needs ads to stay in business. If you think TV isn’t still one of the quickest, broadest ways to disseminate information and make a sale, I’ve got a Chia Pet I’d like to sell you — and I’ll throw in a Clapper for free.

Newspapers are not dead.
Trust me, they’re not, although they’re paying a heavy price for not adapting sooner to the way we live and communicate these days. They'll survive, leaner and hopefully meaner. There’s still a need for investigative newspeople — who focus on actual events that happen, not some bogus lifestyle “news you can use” which, in most cases, is a front for corporate PR efforts.

Awards shows are not dead.
White male hipster Creative Directors still rule over what they deem is good, or whatever their friends did that supposedly deserves a golden tchotchke. Although these days, you don’t need their blessing; you can check out one of the dozens of websites that post and share ads from around the world and make your own judgments. Though you won’t get the same ego-stroking or participate in the latest trend – award shows that turn into week-long conferences (more on those in a minute.)

Magazines are not dead.
There are lot of good magazines out there. But there are too many, and too many similar ones. Go look at the ones at the supermarket checkout counter and see if you can tell a difference. The good ones will live, and maybe they’ll feature good print ads inside. I like magazines. Besides, I hate reading news on my iPhone in the waiting room at the proctologist’s office.

Banner ads are not dead.
And for the same reason billboards on the side of the road aren’t dead, either. They point you in a direction or remind you quickly of something. Whether you obey or click through is another story, but your eyeballs are what counts.

Direct Mail is not dead.
Be they formulaic sales letters or cute mailers, they still show up in my mailbox every day. The internet was supposed to kill direct mail off. High postage prices were supposed to kill it off. Environmentalism and the desire to save paper was supposed to kill it off. No, direct mail is still around. And it still works to some degree. Just ask a DM expert about ROI and trust me, you’ll never get them to shut up about it.

Radio is not dead.
It certainly has a lot of competition, though. But when the power goes out or a hurricane blows through, it helps to have a radio nearby. Plus, local businesses need radio because they need some cost-effective method of telling people how they’re “stackin’ ‘em deep and sellin’ ‘em cheap.”

Industry conferences are not dead.
Every week, it seems like there’s some media conference or advertising summit or marketing wankfest. They all have this in common: Ridiculously high registration fees, mediocre speeches, panels full of self-proclaimed experts, bad PowerPoint presentations, and little being accomplished except the consumption of lots of bottled water by day and overpriced cocktails by night. Thankfully, we have people liveblogging and livetweeting these conferences to capture all the genius we’re missing.

And yes, ad agencies are not dead.
Not if they’re managed well, that is. There are hundreds of small and mid-sized shops that are holding their own, even expanding. They're nimble, in touch with all media, and ready to pounce on agencies that are too old-fashioned or slow to keep up. And for clients, they generally charge less than big ones. Of course, small agencies don't get covered or mentioned in Adweek or Ad Age, while blowhard comments like “ad agencies are dead” always do.

Plus, there’s one agency that definitely won’t die when its owner does: Stan Richards plans to transfer ownership of the Richards Group to a nonprofit group that will hold the stock in perpetuity, making it impossible to sell. Perhaps newspapers could learn a thing or two from Stan.

Now, I’m not even remotely suggesting that we ignore new, emerging forms of media and advertising. Ideally, it all works together—with the right creative, strategy and media people in place and on the same page. So ignore mindless blanket statements like “ad agencies are dead.” It sounds like a ballsy thing to say, but it's just stupid. And unless agencies kill themselves, it’s not going to happen. Because nothing in our media culture dies — it gets reshaped, reinvented, remodeled, and resuscitated.

And if you’re at an agency that’s able to keep up with it all, then you’ll have a nice fat wallet, full of presidents. Dead ones.  

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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