Mad Men Predicts the End of an Industry That’s Still Ending

It’s heart-wrenching to watch the final episodes of “Mad Men” and watch the market researchers come in and the intuitive creatives go out as Sterling Cooper Draper Price gets absorbed into McCann Erickson, especially if you are still in advertising and realize that was just the beginning of the struggle of the agency concept to survive. With its mystique diminished, the former Sterling Cooper staff is nothing more than a half dozen arms and legs to add to a McCann meeting.

Over the past forty years, agencies have only gotten larger and larger, combining finally into holding companies, almost as if they are huddling together in a single tent to fight off an invader. The marauder, of course, is change itself.  The growth of television and its quick rise to supremacy over print as a way to reach audiences was contemporaneous with the appearance of the first mainframe computers in agency back rooms. It’s almost as though the new medium demanded its own new tools.

Outside the agency things were changing just as quickly.We saw Peggy Olsen become the first woman to rise out of the secretarial pool and the introduction of Tampax and Topaz Pantyhose as brands that represented the growing fight of women to be recognized. Sterling Cooper, given the quirky work habits of its principals, seemed to be doing fine until suddenly it was absorbed into McCann.

And then came digital. While Peggy Olsen is still in the workforce, she will see the advent of desktop publishing. and the end of the typewriter (and with it the secretary). The newspapers don’t know it yet, but they will be doomed, unless they can figure it out.

Each of these is a threat to the agency business model, built in the past on a combination of creativity and trust.  Asked to predict what the advertising industry will look like in 2025,  Arthur Sadoun, Global CEO of Publicis Worldwide replied,

For one thing, the rise of platforms will have broken the intermediary model. Why will we need traditional comms agencies when brands and customers are seamlessly matched together with deep data? The value exchange between producers and consumers will no longer flow one way: Platforms will allow them to create meaningful timely experiences together. As an industry, we need to rapidly change what we do — because there isn’t a role for salience when you have symbiosis.

While Zenith Optimedia CEO said,

I suspect that from a media perspective our business will see the same transformation as has happened to the travel industry. The days of buying mass media based on syndicated data will quickly become anachronistic as it is replaced by highly measurable and addressable placements across all forms of media, both on and offline. Hyper-targeting will become the norm, as will machine-based buying. As a consequence, we’ll see a massive acceleration of advertising investment as every dollar invested pays back. Media agencies will be largely unrecognizable from today and will be led by business strategists and data scientists. Clients will increasingly look to the media agencies to replace the management consultants as their critical partners in their own business transformations. Lord Sorrell and French President Maurice Levy’s children become happily married with the two former competitors happily sharing a holiday chateau on the French Riveria.

On the other hand, here’s the view from the creative suite, courtesy of  Ted Royer, New York Creative Chief of Droga5

In 2025 everyone will get communications from companies jacked directly into their faces. It will be a constant stream of light, sound and emotion received through an alien face hugger/Oculus Rift combination. And we’ll all be okay with that because by then corporations will have convinced us that they are our huge best friends, like skyscraper-sized dogs. So to sum up: Giant building-size dogs will pump brand love messages directly into our faces.

Pick your poison. We’re not nearly at the series finale here in real life.