By now, all your festive hangovers should have cleared so you’ll be
able to reflect soberly on the goings on of 1998 and look with an
unflinching eye at the prospects for 1999.
Elsewhere in this week’s Campaign, we reveal our choices for the star
players of 1998 in the mainstream ad and media industries. But what of
the interactive world? What were the significant developments and which
companies have led the way?
It’s been a year of growing online adspend in the UK and, more
importantly, we’ve seen an influx of new advertisers - with mainstream
clients such as Budweiser and British Airways producing interesting work
and learning valuable lessons as they did so.
It’s also been a year of mergers and acquisitions, with most of the
funds for these deals flying in from across the Atlantic. After the
sales of Online Magic to Agency.com and CHBi to Razorfish, the arrival
of the highly acquisitive iXL, and the taking of a stake in Hard Reality
by Leo Burnett, it is getting harder to find a decent, independent,
UK-owned, new-media agency.
Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. After all, nobody worries that BMP DDB
is owned by the Yanks. It doesn’t make the agency any less attuned to UK
culture or any less brilliant at what it does. But the same cannot be
said about Grey or McCann-Erickson. The London offices of these and a
number of other US-owned agency networks still suffer from the
perception that they are dominated by their American parent.
So the future health of the UK web industry is now largely in the hands
of its US benefactors. A lot will depend on the extent to which they
allow their new acquisitions to operate independently.
The good news is that both the CHBi and Online Magic deals bring these
agencies into the Omnicom stable - and Omnicom, as it has proved with
BMP, takes a relatively hands-off approach to its companies around the
Overall, as we turn our eyes to the future, I think there are bigger
things to worry about than the US invasion. The impending economic
slowdown, for one. Given the reluctance of so many advertisers to spend
money online to date, it’s not hard to work out which bit of their
budget they will slash when the going gets tough.
As long as they still see the net as an interesting area of
experimentation rather than of critical importance to their marketing
effort, its presence on advertisers’ media schedules is far from
The smart new-media agencies have already realised this and have begun
steering their efforts in other directions. Building intranets and
working with companies’ IT departments on internal, business-focused
issues - rather than external marketing-focused ones - may not be
glamorous, but it’s very well paid.
As someone said to me recently, there’s no room at the moment for a
lavish, Lowes-style web agency. But that, while hardly a reason to go in
search of the left-over bubbly from New Year’s Eve, is not necessarily a
terrible thing either. Unless, of course, you refuse to look at it
soberly and recognise it as reality.