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Inexplicably, Jerry Della Femina has just been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame. It’s absolutely unbelievable – because, as he says in a recent issue of Ad Age, “most people thought I was in the Advertising Hall of Fame.” Of course, most people thought that. How could he not have already been in the Hall of Fame? The guy is a living legend.

In the course of the interview, which you can read and even watch in its entirety here, Mr. Della Femina shares his feelings about the future of the ad business, and it doesn’t look good to him. The core reason? Advertising agencies, by and large, no longer have the ear of the true leaders of their client’s businesses. No CEOs, no board-level decision makers. Rather, agencies are usually working with mid-level marketers with much more limited authority: “…it’s now boiled down to people trying to save their jobs, not people who want to do great advertising.” The theme of “fear,” which he explored in such depth in his groundbreaking book, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, is more in play than ever.

At The S3 Agency, we are small enough, and fortunate enough, to occasionally work with a CEO or two, and the majority of our clients expect excellent work from us, regardless of their title. But by and large, across the industry, there’s really no arguing with him. Thirty years ago, the head of an advertising agency would be consulting much more closely with the president or CEO of their client. These days, that face time has been lost to strategic management consulting companies like Accenture and Deloitte. Simultaneously, the largest advertising holding companies in the world are dwarfed by companies like Google and Amazon, who hold sway over billions that once might have gone to traditional advertising.

The digital age has only accelerated the situation. Now, “content” is often whipped up by interns, “anyone” can crank out a quick layout in Photoshop, and mobile phone video is “acceptable” for broadcast. And forget print – why spend money on a print ad when fast-churn digital ads placed by computer algorithms can hit your KPIs?

Sadly, too many of those KPIS have more to do with covering bases (and butts) than making sales – or, God forbid, building brands. In the video, Della Femina talks about a single-page print ad his agency recently created that drew over 30,000 online donations on the strength of its concept. He doesn’t believe running a digital display ad with the same budget would have pulled like that, and he’s right. Even in the digital age (maybe especially in the digital age), a great concept that stops and engages someone is the alpha and the omega of our business, and I’m thankful for the reminder.


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