Agencies Forced by Trends to Seek New Models

June was not  the most fortuitous month for advertising agencies. Not only did the Association of National Advertisers’ report on business transparency issues in our media buying ecosystem come out, tagging most of the big players with  borderline unethical if not illegal practices like kickbacks, but Kevin Kelly’s new book “The Inevitable,”  published on June 9, talks about getting rid of advertising agencies altogether and having marketers just pay influencers to promote their products, cutting out both agencies and publishers.

You will need to know the reasoning behind that position.

First, who is Kevin Kelly? Kelly is a very well-known and respected tech thinker, one of the founders of Wired magazine.  In this latest book he talks about a dozen trends  that we should embrace rather then resist, because they are going to be very important in the next couple of decades. Of course there are the usual suspects like artificial intelligence and robots, But Kelly also talks about changes in intellectual property rights since the dawn of the Internet. He characterizes the Internet as a gigantic copying machine capable  and laughs at our thinking we could impose digital rights management on intellectual property  online.

He also talks about the incredible proliferation of content spawned by the Internet, and the fact that the most valuable commodity today isn’t content  — it’s attention from consumers who are confronted by an almost overwhelming variety of it. So why should we have to pay for it ?

Kelly suggests that in a future of limitless content the advertising model may well be flipped on its head, and consumers would be paid directly to watch ads and try products without agencies as intermediaries. Or, in another variation, publishers would choose the ads on their pages and could even craft a publication just by stringing together really cool ads:

The simple idea is that you can craft a publication, or a reading/viewing experience, primarily by choosing and sequencing ads. Selecting the right cool ads — not merely cool content — is the attraction. Not just tiny adsense text ad boxes, but full page ads, or even commercials inside widgets. When I was part of the team making Wired magazine a decade ago, half the battle at launch was landing the right cool ads. We had to convince the advertisers to join (and pay) us. But what if we could just choose the cool ads we wanted, without having to ask permission? What if we could simply harvest the the best ads (measured by any metric we choose) and were paid for the ones we ran according to the traffic we brought to them?

In either of these new models, advertisers would not control where their ads appeared and thus the role of the traditional agency would be over.