Mad Men no longer stride the Earth

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Mad Men is quite hot right now. I haven’t watched it yet, although I plan on renting season one in the near future because everybody I know tells me it’s the greatest thing since the invention of vacuum tubes.

For those who don’t know anything about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the agency world, I imagine the show is fascinating on a lot of levels, as it depicts one of America’s grand industries in its prime. These days, though, admen are the hunted, not the hunters. Their businesses are beset on all sides by forces that are shrinking their opportunities and their possibilities. Sure, we still get the occasional epic TV campaign (GEICO, Apple, Old Spice, etc.) but the business itself isn’t what it once was.

John Cavanaugh, who runs The Tap Tap Tap, has a great analysis up this morning that might be as interesting to the Mad Men fan/ad layman as it is practical for the industry insider. Give it a look.

And Happy Monday. Welcome back to the working week…

Categories: Business/Finance

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3 replies »

  1. I will choose to comment here rather than directly on the TapTap post, because I enjoy arguing with you guys more.

    I think he’s right that the model is dead and there are many reasons for it, some of which he got right in an oblique way.

    (Although ironically, agencies continue to serve a role to buy media, even if it is a degraded role. Interestingly enough, that’s how the agency business started back in 1850 or so when Varney somebody created a business to place ads in western newspapers, which were hard for manufacturers to deal with. Nice bit of circular-ism there.)

    However, I think one thing he has missed is the continual degradation of talent in the agency world. Agencies are no longer at the right hand of the CEO because they no longer have the people who can stand confidently beside the CEO and give him counsel. Maybe at the top there are a couple of guys who can hold their own, but that certainly falls off as you move down the ladder. Agencies tend to be very stratified-very polished and smart folks at the top, poorly paid and not very talented people at the bottom. Agencies have done this deliberately–instead of hiring very good people and billing a few for high rates, they have hired armies of not so good people and priced them for peanuts. In other words, they have chosen to commoditize their own industry, and they have done so.

    Here’s a question for you: Why don’t agencies advertise themselves? I think it’s because they themselves are not confident about the value they add, and clients sense this.

  2. Thanks, Sam. You bring up two excellent questions about the traditional agency model.

    With regard to the degradation of talent – I’m not so sure it has degraded. I believe it has migrated to spaces other than advertising. Advertising, as a chosen field, used to be a sexy (if ill-advised) choice for those with a good combination of ideas and linguistic talent. I expect that anyone with that kind of talent is gravitating more to blogging, social media or a wealth of other industries that are not as ill. Stratification is an issue as well. But it should be said that there are also very talented people at the bottom who only last in the industry for so long. Then they have to find a way to feed themselves, their family, etc.

    As for why agencies don’t advertise themselves – ironically, they do. Advertising agencies love to whip out the rulers when other agencies are around. But they generally do a poor job of advertising to potential clients. However, there is a stealth market that is dependent upon being “hot” and attracting buzz directly from your work. That works if you get extremely hot (like Crispin Porter + Bogusky with Old Spice). But ripples, which are more common, do very little. Ironic.

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