Media and creative are coming back together. The two disciplines separated 30 years ago, as media was "unbundled" from creative and flourished in its own right. Now, market forces are driving media and creative closer again. But this is not about a return to "full service". We are entering a new era of personalised marketing at scale.
Brands need to produce and distribute dozens, hundreds, even thousands, of pieces of dynamic creative that can be tailored and targeted and optimised – often at high speed and in the moment. So marketers and agencies have to embrace smarter, faster, more collaborative and more agile ways of working.
Logic suggests that anyone starting up a new agency today should combine creative and media, along with strategy, data and technology, under one roof. Yet, curiously, to "rebundle" media and creative has been to think the unthinkable for most of the ad industry.
The agency holding companies have resisted change because it suited them financially. The media agencies made big profits while the creative agencies still had prestige and glitz.
However, things are changing as the big creative networks have seen their fortunes slump in the past 18 months. Big "legacy" clients, particularly in consumer-packaged goods, have cut ad production costs and brought some agency services in-house as they have shifted budgets from 30-second TV spots and press into fast-turnaround, always-on digital content.
Meanwhile, ecommerce and direct-to-consumer brands already manage a lot of their digital creative and marketing themselves because it is in their DNA and how they have built their businesses.
This rapid shift in client behaviour is a major problem for the creative agency networks because they don’t sit close to the point of media execution and aren’t plugged into the marketing tech.
So WPP’s decision to merge Y&R with digital experience agency VML was a watershed moment. VMLY&R shows that creative networks are no longer sacred cows.
Curiously, to 'rebundle' media and creative has been to think the unthinkable for most of the ad industry
More radical thinking is required because a lot of people, although not many in media, have clung to the notion that creative agencies remain the most glittering stars in the advertising firmament.
Creating brilliant ideas that become part of culture is still essential. Nike’s "Believe in something" with Colin Kaepernick illustrates how a compelling piece of brand communication can travel the globe.
But that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that advertising and media are becoming more accountable and performance-based.
It has become an article of faith in British media circles to insist that advertisers should split their spend 60:40 between long-term brand-building and short-term direct response and to warn that the pendulum has swung perilously towards 50:50. But what if the revolution in the digital economy means the 60:40 "rule" does not apply in future?
The rise of Amazon as an ad platform suggests that performance marketing will rise in importance because the media leads directly to a sale.
The status quo will not hold. Steve King, global chief executive of Publicis Media, said recently that global media agencies remain strong because the barriers to entry are "much higher" for new entrants, but that cannot be a good thing if it prevents innovation.
Agencies do have a chameleon-like ability to adapt, so it would make sense for a media network to absorb a creative shop. Johnny Hornby has shown the way by taking CHI and rolling it up into The & Partnership – a prescient move that has brought creative and media together with data and technology. "It’s almost impossible to divorce the creative from the buying because it needs to be a continuous loop driven by data and outcomes," one media agency chief says.
It is possible to do more than get media and creative people to sit together. When Brainlabs founder Daniel Gilbert spoke alongside Hornby at a Campaign breakfast on in-housing in October, he argued that "the same person" should be able both to buy and to create ads – a logical conclusion for any digital native.
Creative and media excellence do require diff erent skills, but they belong closer together.