Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else) (4 page)

Little wonder clients turn to MediaLink, Millard said. “We don't have a dog in this race because we love each agency equally. And we're going to help the brands through some of this decision making because we don't care if they choose Omnicom or Publicis. But they can't go to Omnicom and ask, ‘Am I in the right place?' They are more likely to come to us and ask, ‘Should we be working differently with our agency? Or should we put our account up for review?'”

■   ■   ■

The tidal wave
of accounts up for review swept through the agency business. Agencies lost part or all of the business of longtime clients. Publicis, for instance, lost Procter & Gamble and General Mills, as well as Coca-Cola, Mondelēz, and Delta; it gained Visa, Bank of America, and Taco Bell. Omnicom lost Johnson & Johnson, Bud Light, and Adidas; it gained Procter & Gamble, Delta, and Subway. WPP lost AT&T, as well as Bank of America and Coors; it gained General Mills and Coca-Cola. IPG lost American Airlines and Kmart; it gained Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, and Chrysler; Havas and Dentsu gained slightly more client dollars than they lost.

Publicis lost more accounts than its rivals, but the loss that especially rankled Maurice Levy of Publicis was an Omnicom win. The
company he had embraced as an equal merger partner in 2013, only to watch the merger collapse the following year, took what a senior Publicis executive described as “a $100 million haircut” to snatch the P&G business away from Publicis. On the other hand, Levy was overjoyed to best the man he regularly trades public insults with, WPP's Martin Sorrell, by winning part of the Bank of America account.

More was at stake, of course, than relations between advertisers and agencies. “Advertising works as a value exchange,” Andrew Robertson of BBDO, says. “In exchange for advertising, consumers get free or reduced content costs.” Or needed information. It is easy to be cynical or dismissive about the role of advertising in a consumer economy, but its role can hardly be overstated. Commerce and most forms of communication would shrivel without it. Many retail stores would shutter, the number of new products would dwindle, financial service companies would sputter, consumers would complain they are shopping blindfolded. Google, with 87 percent of its $79.4 billion in 2016 revenues supported by advertising, Facebook with over 95 percent ($26.9 billion out of $27.6 billion) in 2016, and Snapchat with 96 percent from advertising, would—like the TV networks and most radio—cease to be “free.” A prime reason U.S. newspaper employment plunged from 412,000 in 2001 to 174,000 in 2016 is that advertising dollars—which account for more than half of all newspaper revenues—dropped from $63.5 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2014, the last year the Newspaper Association of America released newspaper revenues. Facebook's advertising revenues alone exceeded the combined ad dollars of all U.S. newspapers. Overseas, in that same span, newspaper ad revenues sank from $80 billion to $52.6 billion.

Advertising and marketing “provides the oil for the economy's energy,” Martin Sorrell says. Princeton professor Paul Starr, whose authoritative history of the media,
The Creation of the Media
, credited advertising with assuring journalism's independence: “American
journalism became more of an independent and innovative source of information just as it became more of a means of advertising and publicity.”

A 2015 study on the impact of advertising by IHS Markit, a London-based financial services company, concluded that in the United States each dollar spent on advertising alone spawned nineteen dollars in sales and supported sixty-seven jobs across many industries; they predicted that by 2019 advertising would kindle 16 percent of all economic output. A 2016 study of Western Europe for the World Federation of Advertisers, based in Brussels, concluded that each euro spent on advertising equates to seven euros of economic value. Predicting the exact impact of advertising on consumer behavior is not an exact science—though this book will demonstrate that going forward data will yield better evidence—but by anyone's measure, advertising and marketing packs a mighty economic wallop.

Naomi Klein chose to measure the impact of advertising in a very different way. In her book
No Logo
,
*
first published in 2000, she portrayed advertising “as the most public face of a deeply faulty economic system” that promoted sweatshops to produce their often unhealthy products, and that propped up global companies that held sway over politicians to advance globalism, which exported jobs. Her harsh critique of advertising as addictively manipulative was echoed sixteen years later by Tim Wu, whose book
The Attention Merchants
*
argues that by demanding their content be “free” and refusing to pay subscriptions or micropayments, consumers invite intrusive ads and receive inferior journalism and content.

No question: without advertising many citizens would feel
liberated from annoying and often misleading interruptions. But what's indisputable is that advertising and marketing dollars serve as an underlying subsidy for much of the media and the Internet—in other words, for our information ecosystem and, often, for the architecture of our everyday lives. Without this free ATM machine, many companies would be doomed. But as any good advertiser knows, asking someone to sit through all the ads in the TV show they've recorded because those ads fund the channel the show is on is just about as thankless as asking people to pay more for a product because it's good for the environment. Some percentage of consumers may make that choice for the greater good; many more will not. Today, the consumer is in control, and increasingly the challenge for advertisers is to create experiences that people will
want
to have because they will no longer
have
to have them. That is a tectonic shift for a once comfortable industry, and it is worth a look back at how this economically essential industry got
here.

2.

“CHANGE SUCKS”

“I'm prepared to eat our children, because if I don't somebody else will!”

—Martin Sorrell, WPP CEO

The word
advertising
derives from the verb
advert
, which means “to give attention to.” All markets or competitive economies rely on advertising. Thousands of years ago, advertising consisted of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman wall paintings or rock scrawls. Five centuries ago, farmers selling produce relied on word of mouth; villagers selling a service put up signs like
TAILOR
or
BLACKSMITH
. With villages transformed into cities as the Industrial Revolution swept across the nineteenth century, sellers of products turned to a better means of communicating with potential buyers. Thus advertising agencies were born.

The first full-service modern advertising agency, N. W. Ayer & Son, emerged just after the Civil War. What would become the primary means of compensating agencies, the 15 percent commission on all advertising, was also introduced in 1905 by N. W. Ayer & Son. The
introduction of the automobile early in the twentieth century became an advertising catalyst. As auto companies proliferated, their reliance on ads to distinguish themselves grew, as did the use of billboards to catch the attention of drivers. Radio in the 1920s and television after World War II became inflection points for new waves of advertising. The burgeoning Internet at the dawn of the twenty-first century became another inflection point.

As population and products mushroomed, advertising made it possible for consumers to discover things they needed, or thought they needed. Advertising seduced consumers and created familiar brands. Initially, the ads for those brands were informational, often dull and dutiful. Nineteenth-century newspapers were festooned with dense rows of classified ads, occupying the entire front page of many papers. Increasingly, ads began to flirt with consumers' emotions. In the 1920s, Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, became the father of the public relations industry. A hundred years after Shelley declared poets the unacknowledged legislators of the world, Bernays announced in his 1928 book
Propaganda
—a word he used with none of the pejorative connotations it would later acquire—that now this was true of marketers: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” As one might expect of one of Freud's kin, Bernays's mission was to discover the hidden motives for human behavior and learn how to tickle them. “Men are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions,” he wrote. “A man may believe that he buys a motor car because, after careful study of the technical features of all makes on the market, he has concluded that this is the best. He is almost certainly fooling himself.”

Today the definition of marketing extends from the damage
control of public relations firms summoned when a company like Volkswagen is embroiled in scandal; to survey research before a new product is introduced; to the targeting that data companies like Oracle sell to agencies and brands; to designing corporate logos or rebranding companies, as was done when Time Warner Cable was renamed Spectrum; to corporate positioning advice McKinsey & Company offers CEOs; to direct mail, blogs, podcasts, coupons, sponsorships, naming rights, purchased shelf space, corporate Web sites, in-store promotions, membership rewards programs, exhibitions, and young influencers like the Betches, who are paid to extol products on sites like YouTube.

The tentacles of this industry reach wide and deep. It employs an estimated one million people worldwide. One hundred thousand are said to congregate in New York each September alone for the annual Advertising Week in the Times Square area. Then there are the one hundred seventy thousand or so who attend the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas in January, the hundred thousand who attend the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, the armies who attend the Association of National Advertisers in different locales, the South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin in March, the American Association of Advertising Agencies Transformation in Miami or Los Angeles in April, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June, and the conferences that Advertising Week's impresario Matt Scheckner has introduced to London, Tokyo, Mexico City, Shanghai, and Sydney.

It is an industry that has never lacked the capacity to take itself seriously. Jeremy Bullmore, the former J. Walter Thompson chairman, whose company was acquired by Martin Sorrell's WPP in 1987, today sits in a small, cluttered office at WPP's London headquarters on Farm Street, where Sorrell relies on him to write sparkling essays about the industry and to help produce a robust annual company report. “Of all the models for successful economies,” Bullmore says, looking out
from under bushy white eyebrows that give him an almost cherubic appearance, “nothing yet has been able to compete with a liberal, open market. Which is not to say it's without flaws. If you go back five hundred years to a village, there were people who have milk and carrots and there were other people in the village who want them.” Only some form of communication can close the distance between “those who want and those who have.” He thinks most of the gap is filled by advertising. “Edison didn't actually say, ‘Who makes the best mousetrap, the world will beat a path to his door.' If he had said it, it would have been absurd. If you build a better mousetrap and you're in the woods, until somebody knows you've got the better mousetrap, there's no point in building it.” He cites the former Soviet Union and its satellites: “Look at Communist countries. No advertising. None of the consumer goods companies thought it necessary or worthwhile to innovate because if you do something that's quite interesting but you can't tell anyone about it, and your competition are not doing it, why bother?”

As First Lady, Michelle Obama championed learning how to “use the power of advertising to our favor” by promoting exercise and eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. “We all know that advertising works, so we figured why shouldn't fruits and vegetables get in on the action?” she said. Advertising also works in negative ways, witness the Camel ads that once successfully touted cigarettes as a health product, proclaiming, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Or mentholated cigarettes were pitched as assuring improved health.

But neither advertising nor the industry that produces it works the way it once did. The industry is being disrupted by frenemies advancing from the north, south, east, and west. Martin Sorrell impersonates an alarmed Paul Revere, seeking to rally the traditional ad industry, summoning his WPP troops to meet the “continuous disruption
threat” from various competitors. While pacing his all-white, bare-walled London townhouse office, he says, “You've got layers. You've got our direct competitors, like Omnicom. You've got the frenemies, let's call them Facebook and Google principally. You've got the consulting companies, like Deloitte, McKinsey, et cetera. And then you've got the software companies, like Salesforce.com and Oracle and Infosys, and Indian software companies.” He combats new threats by aggressively investing in digital upstarts and jettisoning companies whose economic performance lags. “We've invested in Vice. We've invested in Fullscreen. We've invested in Refinery29,” each a digital company. And, he adds, “I'm prepared to eat our children, because if I don't somebody else will!”

■   ■   ■

It does not please Sorrell
that one clear beneficiary of this tumult and fear—and the client backlash triggered by Jon Mandel's speech—is Michael Kassan's MediaLink. Publically, Sorrell may mute his criticism of Kassan, but he dislikes third parties getting between his agencies and his clients. It annoys him that Kassan's varied clients flock to MediaLink—not WPP—because they seek a reassuring neutral voice and are distressed by the speed and enormity of change. Sorrell has a broader range of knowledge and business acumen than Kassan—and most contemporaries, for that matter. But Kassan is comforting, providing for his clients what he describes as a cushion, a “membrane between” the cartilage and the bone. Martin Sorrell would never describe himself as a cushion.

Like a doctor with a good bedside manner, Kassan knows his clients have reason to be insecure, and he seeks to address their fears. His clients discuss the accelerated spread of mobile phones, whose approximately six billion global users have replaced the desktop and the television as the dominant platform. They marvel at its awesome power:
today's iPhone 8 has more computing power, says Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis, than was used for the first space shuttle. They enthuse that a smartphone platform and its embedded GPS open opportunities to track and engage personally with users. They are awed by China's Tencent, a corporate giant focused on mobile services that connect people, providing access to WeChat. In mid-2016, Tencent had almost 800 million users, 80 percent of whom spend more than an hour a day on one of its sites, especially WeChat, to communicate with family and friends and strangers. They use simple bar codes to partake in 500 million daily transactions, employing 300 million credit cards that link to 300,000 stores, all without switching to another app. If the client does not know, Kassan can explain that WeChat is a one-stop service that combines the varied functions of PayPal, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, Netflix, banks, Expedia, and countless apps. It is clear to Kassan: the mobile future is being shaped in China, not Silicon Valley.

But this frightens his clients, because they know China is a hard market to crack, and they know the U.S. companies that control mobile will drive hard bargains with agencies and advertisers. They also know the limitations of mobile. Ads on mobile phones soak up battery life, are constricted by small screens, and are so intrusive and irksome to consumers that about one quarter of Americans and one third of Western Europeans sign up for ad blockers to prevent the interruptions. How, clients anxiously want to know, do they reach the mass audience so essential to introducing new products and to building brand identity when ads on mobile phones are not as effective and consumers are dispersed among many new channel choices and social networks? And what the hell do they do to reach the next generation—including the digitally savvy millennials age twenty-one to thirty-four, and the even younger Generation Z born after 1997, who detest being hawked to? A reason people might be annoyed by ads is because, on
average, citizens are bombarded daily by an astonishing five thousand marketing messages.

Kassan's clients and agencies do marvel at new data mining tools that offer advertising and marketing companies more weapons to target consumers. But they're also frightened by some of Kassan's digital clients—Facebook and Google in particular—who cooperate with advertisers but also compete by collecting massive amounts of data, which they do not fully share. These digital frenemies use this data and the marketing services they've acquired—like Google's DoubleClick and Facebook's Atlas—to become agency and platform rivals. More and more of his clients are terrified of Amazon, for Amazon has even better data than Facebook or Google, because it tells when a consumer made an actual purchase decision, and like Facebook and Google it walls off its data. Particularly worrisome to brand clients, Amazon promotes its own products, as Google is accused by the European Union of using search to steer users to its own products. For example, if you ask Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, to choose a battery, it will choose an Amazon battery, the reason Amazon batteries dominate battery sales on Amazon.

Kassan's clients and agencies also worry about something else: the data that will yield rich targeting information could trigger a backlash if citizens come to believe their privacy is violated and clamor for government protection. While more data fortifies agencies with better tools to target consumers, it also unnerves them because it arms clients with information about which of their ads sell and which don't. And technology does something else: it democratizes information, giving citizens more choices, more ability to skip ads, to voice their opinions, to vote with their fingers and flee traditional media platforms.

Everyone in the advertising and marketing business marvels at the platform choices technology enables. Consumers can be reached via
an ever-expanding number of TV channels, social networks, apps, blogs, podcasts, and e-mail alerts. But they fear the miniaturization of the mass audience and wonder how to introduce a new product so that it captures people's attention in this new world.

The advertising industry collectively worries that what they think of as their art—big creative ideas—will be replaced by machines weaponized with data and algorithms and artificial intelligence. The primary machine we increasingly rely on is the smartphone, and many in the industry would not be comforted to listen to Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL and before that Google's senior vice president of advertising for the United States and Latin America. In 2015, Armstrong sketched a future in which marketers will have to talk to a consumer via their mobile machine: “And the machine is going to highly disrupt what kind of advantage and what kind of messaging and what kind of interaction you have with a consumer.” Within five years, he continued, six billion people will be connected to the Internet, meaning marketers “are going to have to interact with their machine, which we refer to around here as ‘the second brain.' You're going to have an advertising model that works fluidly for the consumer but also works fluidly for what that machine is.” He illustrates the machine's power by telling of a visit he made that week to a Mastercard board reception where they displayed future products. One was a gas station pump that recognized your Mastercard and regulated the price at the pump based on whether you were a regular customer or not. “In the future, the pump pricing may change based on what type of customer you are and whether you're in a points program. But also, the company will have a lot more information on you.” And the smartphone will “keep track of all your relationships with all the companies you deal with. The exponential power of using that data will change consumer behavior. It will shift more power into the consumers' hands. And it will shift more power to companies that move faster into this world.”

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