Sometimes I am so confused about the role and identity of advertising man in the recent age. What are the advertising men doing? The answer seemed much simpler before this digital era. They created persuasive concepts, and visualized them as images or videos. However, when new technologies totally change the industry and our life today, what is the new responsibility and daily work pattern of ad man?
When social media provide the platform for every individual to show their talents and share their ideas, the position of traditional advertising creatives seems being replaced gradually. In the golden age of advertising as the famous TV episodes Mad Man showed, agencies were creating contents. They stood high above the masses and played the role as mentors or guides, who offered things consumers need and told them what to do. But today, consumers have evolved to prosumers, there is a stable and mature ecosystem inside this huge community. Take youtube as an example, it is almost alarmingly professional today (Friend, 2014). Not only because the quality of its videos is far beyond amateurism but also the scale of its participants is surprisingly huge. These people are self-sufficient, sometimes are even more creative than advertising professionals. This situation means that traditional advertisements are losing their influence. Take myself as an example, when I watch TV shows at home with my family, all of us will just take out our mobile phone during the commercial break. Nobody care about ads! Even on the Internet most of people will just block or skip the ad video in order to access to their favorite content faster. Modern technology gives people the opportunity to express, to choose and to reject. Nick Tran, who used to be Taco Bell’s head of social media, said: “People assume that a traditional endorser has a paid relationship, but they expect if the YouTube community are talking up Taco Bell it’s because they really love it.” If a piece of branded content seems funny or cool, fans see it not as a sellout but as a validation (Friend, 2014). So what is happening in the participatory media space is really challenging both the professional abilities and identity of advertising man——what they have worked for months may even less popular or less convincing than an amateurish work. When big data and prosumers come into power, do we still need creative department?
I think advertising practioners are maybe going to transform their role of “content creator” to “information manager”, keeping an ecological balance of the new information environment created by social media. They no longer have to concentrate in creating fascinating works in order to change the attitude of their target audience by a one-way broadcasting. Today the true work is more about creating a good topic, which can arouse discussions or comments. The key point is how to attract prosumers to create contents and spread them for you, like free labor. Agencies only light the fuse, and try to let it explode in the right direction. For a long time, advertising is always considered as a kind of art. The public, or even some practitioner may forget the essence of this industry is to promote sales, which have never changed. The artistic form of expression maybe just a demand of the times, but that times is gone. So I predict that in the future an advertising agency will be composed by a group of planners instead of creatives. In this new model, creative talents will not have a position in an agency since they can draw revenue form the participatory media space more freely. And the agencies, which lead by strategist, will invite these creative minds to collaborate in a partnership. Because the trend is that people don’t want to see an ad, but accept to watch their favorite video with some promoted products. In the past, people create a story for a product in a video. But today, the product should serve the story. Burgess and Green (2009) indicates “entrepreneurial vloggers” can teach us how to build a meaningful presence and an engaged audience in a participatory media space. But as I say, if they are experts in this field, don’t learn from them but just let them do the job.
Today, I think the skill of expression is no longer the most essential character of an advertising agency. There will not be a simplex art director, or a copywriter in this industry. The leader status is going to be handed to planners. Your prosumers are responsible for all the art or copy job, and the key feature of agencies would be the skill of guiding them. To end this, I want to share a blog post (Banerjee, 2009) with an interesting point of view, which indicated the future will belong to a new crossover breed of advertising professional: the creative planner.