The most consistent change of the digital age is the systematic removal of the middle man. This begs the question – what is the role of advertising agencies, if not to be the middle man between clients and consumers?
In the time of the original “Mad Men” – David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach (the B in DDB), and Emerson Foote (the F in FCB) – the concept of the ad man was on the rise. The right ad line and adverts could sell mediocre products as groundbreaking inventions, and mediocre experiences as life-changing essentials. They ruled until the rules changed circa 21st century, when the internet broke all known rules.
The internet changed the rules in two ways however, first is the speed of digital, and the second is the democratisation of data.
The Speed of Digital
It has been said that in cyberspace, everything moves at the speed of light because technology accelerates things exponentially; things are constantly changing, and we are contributing to that change (Obeng, 2012).
The speed of digital not only accelerates change, but it has also altered the size and scale of how things operate. Consumer behavior is such that people can now connect to brands and make decisions on products in real-time and on a global scale – without waiting for the newspaper, television, or radio to tell them what to buy.
How does this play out in Asia then? According to a Google and Temasek report in 2017, the average hours per person spent on mobile internet usage in Southeast Asia stands at 3.6, with China at 3, compared to 2 hours in the U.S., and 1.8 in the U.K. This predicts a USD 240 billion Internet economy in Southeast Asia alone by the year 2025, and any business not geared to achieve that will be left behind.
The advertising agency business is no different in facing this chasm, having mostly relied on traditional methods of amplification and noise to reach consumers.
In contrast, the digital landscape of an advertising business is vast and unique in its reach, being largely automated, multi-faceted, and highly personal in meeting the needs of consumer trends.
In the millisecond it takes to load a webpage, digital ads go through a virtual bidding war, where multiple and seemingly endless permutations are ranked based on relevance, then matched with infinite combinations of consumer data-points.
Operating at a velocity that flips fundamentals the ad man holds so dearly on its head, the downside of advertising at the speed of digital is that it is self-serve, requiring little, or no face-to-face human interaction.