From the pulpit. The Editor's introduction

Patrick Collister, Editor, Directory

Issue 60 | September 2021

I worry that creative agencies are giving up on advertising.

Let me explain.

I am proud to be a non-executive creative director of Ad-Lib, a tech start-up which has been growing faster than Jack's beanstalk in the last three years.

Founded by former Googler Oli Marlow Thomas, the premise of Ad-Lib is that AI can massively improve the quality of digital advertising. Better ads lead to better results.

Ad-Lib software doesn't just store all the assets of a particular campaign, it assesses them.

It re-edits and re-sizes ads to fit pretty much any shape on the internet. And it makes judgement calls on what images work best, in which order, and it changes them to keep the ad fresh.

Then it reports back so that smart brand managers can continuously test and learn and can continuously change their campaigns on the fly.

It's bloody clever. And it works. That's why ten of the world's thirty largest companies are clients.

Now, here's my frustration.

Creative agencies don't want to know. All the meetings I arrange with Chief Creative Officers get pushed back and pushed back. We're stacked out, they tell me. While their businesses continue to erode.

The media mavens at Zenith have predicted adspend will exceed its pre-pandemic peak by 6% in 2021. Digital advertising will grow by 19% and account for 58% of global adspend. Video advertising is set to rise by 26% to reach $63 billion.

What they don't mean is that carefully crafted three-minute films about the brand's noble values are set to proliferate. They mean all the money is moving towards five-second ads in Facebook and Instagram and six-second bumpers, fifteen-second non-skippables and twenty-second pre-rolls on YouTube.

Yet looking through all the Cannes Lions winners I can find only one campaign that actually shows its short-form digital ads. Just one. Step forward Santo Miami, shortlisted with "You're Not Alone" for Sprite.

In fact, the average length for a video ad at Cannes was one-minute and forty-two seconds.

As editor of Directory, I get frustrated when agencies submit great ideas without explaining how they actually worked. It worries me they aren't proud of the ads that led directly to the results they describe. And juries seem to accept that magically impressions, comments, website visits will soar simply because a great idea is 'engaging'. I'm sorry, but not all success is organic.

Nice idea we were sent from one agency. The challenge, how could their supermarket client get gamers to eat more healthily? Solution, make it possible in Fortnite for players eat fruit and veg to recover their health points and return to the fray faster.

Yeah, but how did the gamers get to know about the initiative?

They didn't tell us. So the campaign didn't make it into the magazine.

Hooray then for LEGO on pages 40-41 for showing us the ads.

No surprise this is an in-house creative team.

If creative agencies don't value what they do, why should their clients? If they are embarrassed by lower funnel, response-centric advertising and happy to give it up, no wonder an increasing number of companies are taking it in-house, where they soon learn they don't need an agency at all.

I try to say to my old mates, if you want to cement your important client relationships, these days you have to sweat the small stuff. Show you both understand and care about the complexities of digital production and your clients really won't want to start again elsewhere.

But when I suggest a partnership with Ad-Lib, they back off nervously, thinking I'm trying to sell them snake oil. Whereas what I'm actually trying to sell is advertising itself.

Pip pip


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