According to a recent article in Fortune magazine, "Changes have brought a deep shift in the balance of power on Madison Avenue ... now media are calling the shots ... and providing the bulk of their parent companies' growth."
There have been many false dawns and much hyperbole about media's growing pains and emergence from the full-service basement. Premature claims of media being the new creative, delivering the ROI Holy Grail or inverting the old full-service model have been around for a while. The quote from Fortune, however, reflects some of the mood and developments of the past 12 months.
Underlying these claims is media's search for identity as it tries to shake off its image as the red-haired stepchild of advertising. During 2004, media companies have come of age - we are now big global businesses with power increasingly revolving around a few companies operating within the key communication groups: WPP (GroupM), Interpublic Group, Publicis Groupe and Omnicom.
In the past year, we have seen media operations grapple with a number of key trends, some new, others ongoing, that have helped define a new communications hierarchy.
HSBC and Samsung were the most high-profile full-service parent group reviews this year. This was not a return to the basement for media serfdom but a pitch among equal partners, reflecting the client's needs for solutions, not agency turf wars. It is, however, part of the larger theme of integration. This does not mean a return to old-style full service. It is virtual integration, not physical - flexible solutions that are built around the client.
The overall requirement is for communication solutions that are not biased to a particular marketing communications company's self-interest. The very reason media broke away in the first place was in order to provide such impartiality to clients. It is this balance of integration with communication partners, and trusted independence from them, that is key to meeting our client expectations.
This lack of bias is also evident in another key theme of the year - channel planning. We have seen inordinate amounts of drivel written about channel-neutral planning. Channel planning is simple, but simplicity is one of the biggest challenges we face. Channel planning should be what media companies do naturally, but we have turned it into a complicated pseudo-science.
The complicated part is understanding how consumers use all the choice they now have, from retail to TV, shelf- wobblers to Hollywood blockbusters, personal video recorders to outdoor spectaculars. Decoding this is where significant investment is going and this is a key area.
The boutiques are taking advantage of this hype. Planning shops have grown and, despite the precarious nature of their business model, there is a lesson here - keep it simple and look for the big idea as well as the big savings. Creativity is central to our approach and the boutiques remind us to put this at the heart of what we do.
The trend towards centralisation and media-only global reviews has tested agency creativity as well as our ability to offer total communication solutions. McDonald's and Nestle are among a number of global advertisers looking to consolidate - these clients demand that we are more than purveyors of media stunts, in-house media experts or orthodox cost-per-million merchants across TV, radio, press, cinema and outdoor.
Once we have created our neutral plan we have to prove it works. ROI is not a new concept but few invest enough to do it well. On one side, global companies compete with national boutiques and on the other, Accenture and McKinsey are developing communication "science units". These companies know little about communications, but they know process and codification. Agencies need to learn from them and become better at leveraging their knowledge scale.
ROI is one side to accountability; the other is procurement. Procurement is key to what we do. The good thing is it measures and proves our success but the danger is that procurement reduces media to a commodity and differentiation dies. Yet it is differentiation that our clients demand. We need to work together to create a new model that delivers better overall effectiveness measurement.
If procurement exists, it exists because our clients want it. All these trends reflect our clients' needs - integration, ROI, insights, global best practice and channel neutrality.
Clients want international agencies to be able to deliver all this, with the best resources and market leverage. As media companies consolidate, they are best placed to deliver. A few are left looking for a home and the next 12 months will see a new round of mergers and acquisitions.
How are media owners reacting? More of the same, it seems, with little global organisation or ambition. Media agency networks continue to grow; media owners seem less connected or bothered. They need to move beyond their limited revenue models and work with us to create new and bold solutions beyond the existing conventions.
One final trend: blue-collar media. We make a simple job really hard to understand. Media at one level is the most tedious job you can do - all those Excel spreadsheets. But if you see it as everything that carries a message, from soap operas to Hollywood, then maybe media people are the new creatives. We just need to make it simpler - easier to evaluate, easier to choose a great idea and easier to sell more of our clients' products. If we do that then Fortune's headlines will be justified.
- Nick Emery is the chief strategy and planning officer at MindShare Worldwide.
THE 10 BEST INTERNATIONAL PRESS ADS.
1. PlayStation "blow-up doll", France Demonstrating that a PlayStation is the most fun a young man can have on his own in his bedroom, another distinctly peculiar ad for the games console features a lonely individual with an oddly shaped blow-up doll.
Creative director: Erik Vervroegen
2. Sphere "action figures", Singapore
Realistic action figures are incorporated into images of military action: one sits on a tank, one is on patrol, a third walks past a soldier washing, and a fourth is in battle.
Creative director: Mark Bamfield
3. Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption "favela", Brazil
"Are you so indifferent that you don't even notice this photo is upside down?" this ad showing a shanty town asks.
Agency: Leo Burnett Sao Paulo
Creative director: Ruy Lindenberg
4. Hospice Bookstore "1956", South Africa
This campaign makes a virtue of the "used" nature of secondhand books with the line: "Our books have two stories." The ad shows the inside front cover of the book where someone has written: "1956. Saw this and thought of you."
Agency: Lowe Bull Johannesburg
Creative director: Rob McLennan
5. Virgin Atlantic "in-flight entertainment", South Africa
Virgin Atlantic promotes its in-flight entertainment offering with mocked-up movie posters showing the alternative - talking to your fellow passengers. Straplines such as "my life in photocopier sales", "my wife doesn't understand me" and "stories about my grandchildren" drive the point home.
Agency: Network BBDO Johannesburg
Creative director: Mike Schalit
6. Globetrotter "seal, Germany
What at first appears to be four seals basking on the sand is in fact three seals and a sleeping bag in this spot for Globetrotter, a German camping-equipment brand.
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Frankfurt
Creative directors: Anna Kohlhaupt, Wolf-Peter Camphansen
7. Herringbone "cloth", "sofa", Australia
The clothing brand meets David Lynch, with tailors driven mad by their company's demand for detail: "347 stitches in every shirt. Enough to drive any tailor insane."
Agency: M&C Saatchi Sydney
Creative director: Ben Welsh
8. Veja "both sides", Brazil
The news magazine Veja encourages you to "get both sides". One ad shows a portrait of George W Bush with "peace" and "war" worked into his features. Osama bin Laden gets the same treatment treatment with the words "dead" and "alive".
Agency: Almap BBDO Sao Paulo
Creative director: Marcello Serpa
9. Bisley, "new order", Germany
Three spots show how anal this office furniture provider is: Japanese text, a clock and the Union flag all get organised into lines ranked by size and grouped by colour. Scary.
Agency: Kolle Rebbe Werbeagentur Hamburg
Creative directors: Sebastian Hardieck, Andreas Geyer, Ursus Wehrli
10. Philips Lighting, "banish monsters", Singapore
Scary creatures sleep rough because Philips Lighting drives them away. Bless.
Agency: Leo Burnett Singapore
Creative directors: Linda Locke, Tay Guan Hin, Karl Dunn
THE 10 BEST INTERNATIONAL TV ADS.
1. Nike, "musical chairs", The Netherlands
An indoor basketball game morphs into musical chairs. Chaos ensues as spectators, players and reporters scramble to get themselves seated. The final two players might as well be Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant for the hysterical attention they attract. Perfectly in step with Nike's "play" imperative.
Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam
Creative directors: Carlos Bayala, Paul Shearer
2. Soken, "DVD", Thailand
Three ads demonstrate that Soken DVD players are smooth machines, as people get jammed up as they explain the plots of famous movies.
Agency: Euro RSCG Flagship Bangkok
Creative directors: Chukiat Jaroensuk, Passapol Limpisirisan, Wiboon
Director: Suthon Petchsuwan
3. Bud Light "real men of genius", US
Mr Really Really Really Bad Dancer ("you're either dancing or you have fleas") and Mr Way Too Much Cologne Wearer take an affectionate knock in the continuation of Bud Light's "real men of genius" campaign.
Agency: DDB Chicago
Creative directors: John Immesoete, Mark Gross, Bob Winter, Bill Cimino,
Directors: John Immesoete, Greg Popp, Noam Muro
4. Evian, "waterboy", France
A glass of water becomes an animated character, singing along to Queen's We Will Rock You. He takes on several incarnations: ice, steam and rain. Then he falls in love with a water girl and has a family of water babies.
Agency: BETC Euro RSCG Paris
Creative director: Remi Babinet
5. Vim, "prison visitor", Canada
A daughter visits her mum in prison. Their hands touch the glass screen. "When are you gonna get outta here?" the distressed daughter asks. "In a while," mum says, as she returns to scrubbing a grotty bath with her inferior all-purpose cleaner - the prison glass was a shower screen. The strapline's wise advice is: "Spend less time cleaning."
Agency: Zig Toronto
Creative directors: Elspeth Lynn, Lorraine Tao
Directors: The Perlorian Brothers
6. Unif Green Tea, "worms", Thailand
"Worms" is cute and completely bizarre. A baby worm climbs up a plant with his dad to find the finest tea leaves. They are confronted by a tea leaf picker. The baby tries to hypnotise the picker but to no avail: not even a hungry worm with magical powers will deter the picker from finding superior leaves for this green tea brand.
Agency: BBDO Bangkok
Creative director: Suthisak Sucharittanonta
Director: Suthon Petchsuwan
7. BC SPCA, "pet adoption", Canada
In this campaign, people treat people as pets: a man strokes his flatmate while they're watching TV; a dad tries to get his son to "fetch" a ball. The strapline reminds us: "Some things you can only do with a pet. Adopt soon."
Agency: DDB Canada Vancouver
Creative director: Alan Russell
Director: David Shane
8. Peugeot 407, "toys", France
"Playtime is over", according to this spot that shows people driving colourful toy cars through city streets.
Agency: BETC Euro RSCG Paris
Creative director: Remi Babinet
Director: Philippe Andre
9. Aerolineas Argentinas, "shadow", Argentina
With a sweet narrative, magical make-believe and jaunty violin, this ad resembles the French film Amelie. Two kids follow the shadow of an aeroplane and the next day trap it in a tin to dream about where they could go.
Agency: J. Walter Thompson Buenos Aires
Creative directors: Leandro Raposo, Pablo Stricker, Pablo Colonnese,
Director: Javier Blanco
10. Toyota Tacoma, "girlfriend", US
An aggrieved girlfriend tries to take revenge on her boyfriend by trashing his truck, but fails. She pushes his Toyota Tacoma off a cliff and on to a beach, but the hardy vehicle survives intact.
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles Torrance
Creative directors: Steve Rabosky, Harvey Marco
Director: Baker Smith
THE 10 BEST INTERNATIONAL POSTERS.
1. Channel 9 TV, "missile car", Malaysia
This clever ambient execution from J. Walter Thompson Kuala Lumpur scooped the Grand Prix in its category at Cannes this year. Illustrating the strapline "non-stop action", a truck with three missile-shaped balloons tied to it drove around the streets of Kuala Lumpur looking as though it were under attack.
Agency: J. Walter Thompson Kuala Lumpur
Creative directors: Edwin Leong, Andy Soong
2. Dulux, "jacaranda", South Africa
This ingenious poster execution from Lowe Bull Johannesburg embodies the Dulux promise of "any colour you can think of". It dominates an avenue where the intense lilac blossom on the jacaranda trees matches the colours in the ad. An appearance from the Dulux dog completes the effect.
Country: South Africa
Agency: Lowe Bull Johannesburg
Creative director: Rob McLennan
3. Buenos Aires Zoo, "hands", "wrinkles", Argentina
Buenos Aires Zoo is 115 years old. This endearing campaign from Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi Buenos Aires celebrates this fact by showing a gorilla's aged hands and an elephant's wrinkles. It puts those laughter lines and bingo-wings into perspective, you must admit.
Agency: Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi Buenos Aires
Creative director: Chavo d'Emilio
4. Weru, "soundproof windows", Germany
Weru's soundproof windows are so effective that you can't hear a lawnmower, a megaphone or a roadworker's drill through them. The posters from Scholz & Friends Berlin show people using miniature versions of these annoying machines to emphasise the efficiency of the product.
Agency: Scholz & Friends Berlin
Creative directors: Jan Leube, Matthias Spaetgens
5. Paton, "pots", Australia
Trees as a medium? Who'd have thought it? Publicis Mojo Sydney, apparently. In another witty bit of ambient, this time for the Australian fertiliser brand Paton, small Paton-branded pots were placed around big trees, creating instant ads.
Agency: Publicis Mojo Sydney
Creative director: Lachlan McPherson
6. The Vacuum Cleaner Company, "new Electrolux", Denmark
This ad sucks - or, at least, that's what Y&R Copenhagen wants you to think. This special-build poster illustrates the powerful suction of the new Electrolux vacuum cleaner. The large yellow poster has been designed to look like it is being sucked into the building behind it.
Agency: Y&R Copenhagen
7. Adidas, "vertical football", Japan
Another brilliant special-build poster, combining clever media planning and the insane physical bravery of the Japanese. TBWA\Japan Tokyo suspended two courageous footballers from ropes for a vertical kickabout, thus demonstrating that "impossible is nothing". Pity the poor souls who have to interview them for the post-match analysis.
Agency: TBWA\Japan Tokyo
Creative director: John Merrifield
8. BMW, "mix your playgrounds", France
This beautiful ad by BDDP & Fils Bolougne-Billancourt combines the distinctive skylines of London, Paris and Mahattan with famously rugged landscapes such as the Alps and the Grand Canyon to create a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy land for you and your Beamer to play in.
Agency: BDDP & Fils Boulogne-Billancourt
Creative director: Olivier Altmann
9. Amnesty International, "public awareness messages", Spain
These subtle but disturbing posters from Contrapunto Madrid highlight the suffering of victims of torture via the elegant device of a candle - Amnesty's icon - illuminating the darkness. Part of the effect is to make you wonder what else is going on in the shadows.
Agency: Contrapunto Madrid
Creative directors: Antonio Montero, Carlos Sanz de Andino, Carlos Jorge
10. Road Safety, "windscreen flyer", New Zealand
"Please don't speed near schools", the strapline requests. But the image of a girl's head smashing into a windscreen does the real talking in this special build from Colenso BBDO Auckland.
Country: New Zealand
Agency: Colenso BBDO Auckland
Creative director: Toby Talbot