The year ahead for advertising agencies: expect more disruption and a creative renaissance

Tough times are looming, but despite this, the fundamental truths underpinning the industry will remain in place, writes Chris Hirst chairman of Havas UK and chief executive of Havas Europe.

The year ahead for advertising agencies: expect more disruption and a creative renaissance

I’m sorry to say it, but 2018 is going to be tough. Tough because of challenges particular to our industry and tough because of coming political and economic crises. In 2018, the economy will be weaker, the disruption will be greater, our competitors more numerous, the levels of uncertainty higher.

It is 50:50 whether there will still be the same number of holding companies in 12 months’ time. If not next year, then soon after, there will be fewer of the big six, either as a result of acquisition or merger. 

Word has it that Accenture made an impressive debut at the AdForum summit. Will it have the courage (interest) to make serious its rumoured flirtation with WPP? It should proceed with caution; our business is a lot more complicated than outsiders perceive. However, one deal will lead to more. The question is: who will make a first step and when?

Google and Facebook will come under rising regulatory pressure, led by the European Union. The rumblings have begun, but they will maintain their dominance. However, they will also begin to seem ever so slightly less omniscient, as Alibaba, Tencent and Amazon begin to chip away. In the US, Amazon is now the clear leader in ecommerce search.

‘Reports of creativity’s death are greatly exaggerated; it may experience a renaissance’

Mobile will drive all before it, and if that isn’t enough to give marketers sleepless nights, voice will start to make us question the very future of many brands. In 2017, the most popular voice request in the US was "Alexa, play me a song." Who chooses the song? If you’re a record label, how do you ensure it’s one of yours? 

The most popular voice purchase this year in the US? "Alexa, buy me batteries." In one year, Duracell has lost its top spot in the US. Guess who is number one? (Clue: Amazon now produces batteries.) 

Platforms are not neutral. The algorithm chooses in the owners’ interest, not ours.

The convergence of mobile payment and social-driven ecommerce (already a massive business in China, pioneered by Tencent and Alibaba) will become mainstream here, too. Think: Instagram with click-to-buy. It’s coming. 

At Havas, our global Meaningful Brands study has repeatedly found that people wouldn’t care if 74% of brands disappeared. Until now, our largely bricks-and-mortar-based shopping habits have protected brands, as a sort of symbiotic relationship exists between retailers’ own-labels and brands. However, voice and social will begin to untie the knot. 

Of course, it is equally possible to see every threat as an opportunity; as many brands will thrive as will struggle. Businesses and brands will need creativity as never before, but it will manifest itself differently. 

"Skip ad" is a metaphor for the public’s relationship with ads. The possibilities afforded by data-driven insights and targeting will begin to be realised by more and more businesses, but finding people doesn’t mean they won’t become more and more adept at avoiding our messages if we’re dull, boring or irrelevant. 

Sixty-one per cent of recorded clicks are actually mistakes, as people miss the "x" button when trying to close the banner. Creating more meaningful connections is the answer.  

A leading record industry figure said recently that, thanks to VR, he would soon be able to take his kids to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium

In 2018, if you want to look like you know what you’re talking about when it comes to data, simply suck your teeth, shake your head and remember four letters: GDPR. The vast majority of businesses and brands remain totally unprepared for its arrival in May, with some estimates suggesting that more than 70% of data currently held will be rendered useless – not to mention the hefty legal penalties for those who get it wrong. Get reading!

And creativity? Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated; indeed, it may experience a renaissance. The possibilities of the convergence between technology, entertainment and brands are mouthwatering. Complicated, yes, but a prize worth striving for. 

A leading record industry figure said recently that, thanks to VR, he would soon be able to take his kids to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium. Consider the possibilities that opens up for brands, IP owners and technology businesses. Let’s make sure we’re at that party.

Lastly, what of us humans? Well, here, there’s good news. The media industry will re-remember that it is a talent and culture business before all else, and in a world as confusing and disorienting as this, who better than super-smart (and, dare I say, likeable) humans to sit at the client’s side and help turn all those numbers into insights. Just like the old days (in 2013). 

In 2018 it’ll be easier than ever to get lost in jargon, waffle and numbers, but wipe away the bullshit, and the most fundamental truths about our industry remain: happy clients will help you sleep better at night, winning pitches will get you a pay rise, and picking up Lions will make you famous. Do all three at once, and you’ll be the best of the best. 

As my trans-Channel bosses are wont to exclaim: "Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose."