Home > advertising agencies > The end of the road for online ad agencies?

The end of the road for online ad agencies?

Ah, the cyber lions. I’m always excited about the results. Not sure why really, as I could have predicted about 90% of the results right.

Anyway. What’s surprising and seems to have gone unnoticed, is that the cyber lion category, a category once dominated by pure play digital players, is now dominated by advertising agencies.

Let’s have a look at the gold winners:

BBH New York
OGILVY & MATHER Düsseldorf
BBH London
DROGA5 New York

Yes sir, part from AKQA’s grand prix, digital advertising agencies have been remarkable… by their absence. Glue, Poke, RGA, Dare, Profero, Lean mean fighting machine, the Swedish ones, have not got one gold between them. (I don’t count the silver and bronze). Boondongle seems to be the only web agency to be represented. [Got to love that banner concert idea.] The viral factory is always there, but I wouldn’t put them into the digital agencies bandwagon. Oh, almost forgot Bridge worldwide. so that’s 2 out of 11 winners. Please also note they both won for banners.

Anyway, what does it mean? It means that advertising agencies have got their act together. Dominic Goldman, creative director, has digitalized BBH and showed that it only takes one man to make great digital advertising. He is the Barnados mastermind (and last year’s Mentos campaign).

He is obviously the exception, but constantly shows that with the right talent and connection,  advertising agencies like BBH can deliver the best digital work. Better than so called ‘specialists’. Talking about BBH, they got 3 cyber golds. They were laughed at couple of years ago by online agencies for their efforts to gear up in digital, and they did make some mistakes along the way, but who’s laughing now?

It also means that the digital agencies can’t play the ‘They-don’t-get-it’ card anymore. Or ‘they-don’t-have-techy-people-in-house’. Who cares? Get good creatives who gets digital in, tech-savvy producers,  outsource to the best digital production houses, and you are in business.

It’s the end of an era for me and I’m afraid I can’t really see it changing.

My friend David Lee, one of the most talented digital creative of the hour has just left WK London for… another ad agency… TBWA Digital Arts in NY.

Just here in WK Amsterdam, we’ve got the art director of Get the glass, and Edu and Jab from Spanish digital hotshop DoubleYou.

The talent problem will always be there for digital agencies. Talented creative will always want to work for the BBH, Fallon, CP+B, WK or Goodby of this world. They are just waiting for the call, no matter what they are saying. They are lying.

Going from glue to BBH felt like being promoted to the Premiere league (no disrespect to glue at all that I still love). I’m talking about going from digital to advertising.  From being the last thing on your client’s agenda to being the first. From having to adapt some shit ATL strategy online to being on the driving seat of global brands. From a 50,000 pounds budget to millions.

It just is more exciting. As long as digital agencies will not be ‘owning’ relationships with their clients, they will never be able to compete with their advertising agencies counter part to lure talent. And no talent means no awards. Which means no PR. No new business, etc. Repeat until extinction.

Some like glue have always see it coming and have always positioned themselves as being an advertising agency specialised in digital. Only recently have they finally justified it by netting 3 in the UK, which I applaud them for.

But the rest is better hurry before they either disappear or get transformed into production arms of others advertising agencies and end up just building websites and banners.

Digital agencies were supposed to take over the advertising world.

I sincerely hope this will serve as a wake up call for the industry and that they will be back challenging for honours next year.

At least I know the Viral Factory will  be there. They seem to have an uncanny habit of always winning at Cannes. Well done chaps.

  1. dan
    June 25, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    why don’t you talk such sense in meetings?

  2. dan
    June 26, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Who said that? x

  3. June 26, 2009 at 11:03 am

    very interesting point of view mister. Have you also thought about the growing influence of publisher in the creative digital space?

    How is life by the way…

  4. simiant
    June 29, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Uh yeah may have caught up in terms of doing banners and microsites. But for a lot of digital agencies these are of no interest at all.

  5. Digicynic
    June 30, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Hi Nathan,

    Thats’ exactly what I’m saying, that if digital agencies don’t get their act together, they’ll end up being responsible only for building banners and microsites, which is of not much interest to them.

    I know the cyber lions are not a reflect of the industry. But is still interesting to look at.

    And that it’s not a good sign that digital agencies are under represented in the category. It’s a reflect of the creative talent that has shifted from digital to advertising agencies.

    Kudos for AKQA and Tribal DDB for 2 stunning pieces of work. There is still indeed talent in the digital world. I wouldn’t be surprised though, to see the creative teams responsible for the work were to get a few calls from the big agencies pretty soon.

    I consider myself to be more of a digital person than a advertising one. And I think we need a healthy digital industry to push and challenge advertising agencies’ complacency.

    But digital agencies seem to have rested on their laurels a bit. And to Danielle’s point, they need to gear up if they are to challenge the ATL ones.

    Cedric, life is good thanks, how are you. What do you mean by the growing influence of publishers?

  6. June 30, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I think we’re witnessing a pendulum swing right now. It’s been one way, it’s swinging the other. But it’s never going to sit still.

    Of course there’s going to be a digital brain drain – massive salaries, ego-rubbing and promises of the world, are hard to ignore. But what’s life like when you get there? Is it really the bed of roses that you’re making it out to be?

    For all the people who’ve had good experiences at traditional agencies there’s more than a couple getting the fuck out and coming back to pure play digital agencies.

    As for the work. I think there’s traditional agencies doing awesome traditional online advertising. But I don’t feel like they’re the places that are pushing innovation and ground breaking work (with a couple of notable exceptions). And besides places like Cannes are set up to award great advertising. Not great digital. There is a difference. IMHO.

  7. Digicynic
    June 30, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks for the post. Good debate.

    I think it’s hard to generalise too much without falling into cliches, but I agree with you on the point that digital agencies will probably be pushing harder for innovation. But to what extent? Where’s the final product? What is it if not advertising, only because it’s online?

    A digital agency is still an ad agency, generating creative work, for online. So if Cannes is not a good result of the creativity of the digital work, what is?

    What is great digital? How is great digital not great advertising?

    Where can I see great digital work, done for brands?

    Now I’m with you, there is a lot of advertising agencies (most) out there who still don’t get it, just hire a couple of people and do nothing else.

    But the one who have, the CP+B, Goodby, BBH, WK, seem to be producing more interesting work on the digital space than the digital pureplays. As of now.

    But again, I’m not dedicated to one cause or the other. I want to work in the most creative places, no matter which field they operate in. I’m not in favour or one or the other, only looking at the big picture.

    At the end of the day, great creative will come from great relationships with clients. AKQA is really the business partner of Fiat and Tribal DDB Amsterdam is in great terms with Philips. And they both do great work.

    But they are the exceptions, and advertising agencies still pull most strings. Again, for now. But what is the digital industry doing to challenge them?

  8. June 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Very interesting lads. Guess we won’t have a clearer picture of how it’s shaking out until next year.

    I won nothing at Cannes this year. Does this mean I’m over the hill?

    Actually don’t answer that.

  9. July 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Interesting point, and it proves that advertising agencies are best at advertising.

    But, as Iain also points out, there is more to life and digital marketing than advertising. And not winning gold (since you exclude grand prix, silver and bronze to prove your point) really doesn’t get me in much of a badoogle.

    … and there is, in my opinion, more to life than awards..

    I think the point to be made is that advertising agencies have grown up digitally, either by recruiting the right people (brilliant point by the way :o) from the digital industry, or by adopting the mindset. Which is brilliant and all the congrats to them, their work is often both outstanding and excellent.

    Which means they can ad their digital muscle to, as you say, their “existing relationships” and “string pulling” which I reckon far extends the abilities of smaller digital agencies.

    Great thoughts, nice to be woken up :o)!


  10. July 3, 2009 at 5:40 am

    Great post, a lot to think about 🙂 I want to agree with Iain, I really do, regarding his point that Cannes evaluates advertising, and that therefore traditional advertising agencies fare so well. But I’m struggling to see what counts as “great digital” but doesn’t count as advertising/marketing?

    Social media is not owned by anyone (yet). PR companies are staking as much claim to that as anyone else.

    Mobile (since the iPhone especially) is entirely up for grabs. Who can credibly claim leadership there?

    To me, what’s more important is not if it’s a traditional agency or a digital agency. The bigger question is, how are we assembling teams/talent/resources to not only deliver communication solutions, but to also fulfill the real promise of digital media, tools and technology to help and build our client’s business? How can we be their (real) partner? Not just to deliver a short lived application, campaign or creative execution, but new thinking at the level of business model innovation, services and new sources of value creation.
    In this regard, I’d argue that the playing field is fairly level.

  11. July 23, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    It would also be interesting to know how much great digital work from advertising agencies is actually delivered by those agencies and not sub-contracted to pure play digitals.

  12. digiphile
    July 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    2 of BBH’s golds were for Barnardo’s banner ads. Is it worth pointing out that they lost that bit of business to Poke earlier this year? Thought so.

  13. July 28, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    I generally look to the Webbys for the best in digital. I don’t believe many digital agencies feel like it is worth entering Cannes. Not that it’s a bad thing, every industry should celebrate once a year but it is a love fest for the traditional agencies.

    Lets not forget that a digital agency won the Grand prix for film

  14. Digicynic
    July 29, 2009 at 7:23 am

    I agree with you Carl. I also check the webbies for the best websites. However, do not rate them much somehow.
    I’m talking here about advertising agencies. Most of these digital agencies have long claimed to be advertising agencies specialised in digital and have claimed not to be interested in building websites.
    I guess they’ll have to chose at some point which business they are in. Advertising or technology.

  15. yannk
    August 4, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Hi Jerome,
    You’re perfectly right. This year sounds the year when borders explose between specilized agencies and generalists ones.
    But in my opinion, the notice can be easily extend to the rest of the specializations due to this year Cannes results. e.g. the winner of the film’s grand prix is a digital agency (Tribal DDB), the winner of the PR’s grand prix is a politician (B. Obama) etc.
    The idea (big sometimes) could come from any kind of agency.
    So it could be the age of multitask agencies where specialized talents (who are former digitalists, PR etc.) work together in harmony (in order to copy your FB’s presentation).

  16. Bo
    August 10, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Apologies for late post, but I welcome agencies like BBH etc in cyber categories and they do good advertising.

    But if you scratch the surface and investigate how these great digital campaigns come about it seems to be down to:
    1. great client relationships and fantastic suits who can get clients to open their budgets to digital experimentation.
    2. Agencies like North Kingdom or B-Reel whitelabelling for the ATL who picks up the award ultimately gets the credit.

    And yes, there is a brain drain from digital agencies – but I have to agree with Iain – being digital in traditional agencies is not what it’s made out to be.

    What is much more interesting than claiming that this is the end of online agencies is the infiltration of digital in traditional category stronghold: Sapient picking up Gold in Design, Tribal picking up Grand Prix in film etc.

  1. June 29, 2009 at 9:10 pm
  2. July 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm
  3. July 27, 2009 at 8:14 am
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