The US series Mad Men is period drama; its chain-smoking 60s ad men are historical artefacts. But while 21st century creative agencies have swapped sharp suits and Brylcreem for distressed denim and no-hawks, they’ve largely retained the attitude that they know best: that an expertly-crafted piece of copy will fool pretty much anyone into buying pretty much anything.

Yes, there’s a certain arrogance to them (one character in Mad Men observes that Sterling Cooper, the agency at the centre of the series, “has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich”). There’s a lack of respect for their audience – and very often their clients as well. But there’s also a lie.

As everyone now knows, traditional advertising is broken. The recession has only accelerated the recognition of digital marketing as more controllable, more measurable and simply more effective. Hands up the guy who’s still searching for “advertising agency”.

Companies have begun shifting their marketing spend to digital. But what many brands are really shifting online are traditional content and old-school attitudes. Going digital is about more than PDFing your catalogue, popping a TV ad on your site or buying a banner on Wired. It’s about fundamentally changing the way you interact with your customers.

Because what is really obsolete is the concept of a polished message and a passive audience. Digital is not about telling people how great your brand is; it’s about them telling you how great your brand is. Or how terrible. It’s not about a single, perfect vision of your brand; it’s about thousands of ill-considered, un-grammatical, pointless, mad, passionate, but above all authentic tweets, e-mails, comments, blog posts and reviews.

As a brand, you can’t control this conversation. You may not like what they’re saying, but you can’t stop them saying it. You can choose only to ignore it or to join in.

As a digital agency, our first job is not to produce perfect copy or pretty websites (though we have built some doozies). We’re about creating opportunities for people to engage with your brand online and for you to engage back. And we’ve just inherited the Earth.

  • Bennett

    Not exactly sure that your Google Trends charts prove anything. But you do paint a picture of a bleak future, in which all advertisements are written according to an SEO algorithm, and read like Viagra spam. Does that future represent a stable equilibrium or is it just the last gasp of the advertising industry before it completely implodes? One … could ask the same question about the democratization of news media, of course.

    I would note that the mobile phone ringtone industry thought they’d inherited the earth during the crazy frog period, but it turned out to be supernova death-rattle of an imminently obsolete market.

  • RobArtisan


    Google searches are not an accurate measure of whether a whole industry is in decline, at least not in this case.

    Advertsing agencies will be approached and then commissioned not because someone has found them through a search engine, but because of their reputation, their work, long-standing relationships, the ability of their business development teams.

    Since when would Orange or Cadbury’s say “we have a big pitch but who will we invite to pitch as we know no-one? We’d better do a Google search.”

    Digital searches are up and rightly because more businesses are aware of digital and what it can offer.

    But to say advertising is “broken,” and use terms such as “lie” is not really advancing your point of view in a way that you should be proud of – it erodes your position, especially as you reference Mad Men is set 50 years ago and is fictional

    I think PushON has as strong service, proposition in an industry that is developing and will grow – that is enough to base a winning case on