Rather like Peter Piper and his pickled peppers, it’s a phrase that can be difficult to pronounce after a tipple or two.

But this is one tongue twister that media and marketing people are going to have to get their heads around, if they want to keep those heads above the rising tide of complexity in the digital marketplace.

Disintermediation, when discussed within the broad context of digital marketing, raises an obvious question – why, when the Internet is famous for cutting out the middle man, does media agency influence persist in this space?

There are clearly many agencies that perform important, indeed vital services, and the advertisers who procure these services are prepared to pay for them. But this isn’t always the case; witness the number of brands that have successfully taken their buying in-house recently, Kellogg’s, Netflix and P&G being just a few well-known examples.

So if there is a useful and important role for agencies to play in the digital media ecosystem (and we believe that there is), then how should that role be defined?

“Ad agency models are breaking”

Any layman dipping into the advertising trade press for the first time could be excused for assuming that ad agencies are being sucked down into an irreversible spiral of doom. Witness Brad Jakeman’s recent talk at the ANA’s ‘Masters of Marketing’ conference in Florida, which was neatly summarised by Adage as follows:

‘Ad agency models are breaking. Pre-roll ads are useless. Measurement models are outdated. The ad industry lacks diversity. And the phrase digital marketing should be dumped.’

Sure, this is hyperbole, but there is more than a grain of truth in it. And the truth is that the traditional media agency model is under pressure in the digital world as never before…

  • Programmatic trading not only undermines the need for volume-driven buying power but also demands a whole new set of technical skills to deliver a successful campaign. And it is growing fast.
  • Advertisers are becoming more clued-up about how they can use their own insights and data to deliver better results themselves
  • Transparency remains a burning issue that continues to eat into the trust that once existed between advertisers and their agencies.

So what next for advertisers who are unsure of where they stand? Well clearly no-one wants disruption in the agency model to create a stagnant scenario where fresh ideas are quashed by lack of in-depth specialist knowledge, or by fears of upsetting the status quo within the advertiser camp.

Media agencies have a role to play in ensuring that this imagined future does not become reality.

They need to work out how they can really add value, by offering clients a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the entire media ecosystem, thereby supporting cross-media planning & strategy.

They also have a vital part to play in ensuring that ‘digital marketing’ (sorry, Brad) remains a fundamentally human endeavour, allowing brands to continue reaching consumers on an emotional level.

Ultimately, media agencies need to rediscover their core calling as people businesses – only in this way can they properly bridge the gap between advertisers and eyeballs in the digital world. We look forward to seeing how the best agencies galvanise their troops and resources to rise to this challenge – those that don’t may not be long for this world.