Monday, August 17, 2009

Sterling Cooper What Happened to You?

As a shameless tag along to last night's Mad Men premiere, I want to develop a hypothesis that I've been kicking around about how agencies, companies, and other elements of the marketing value chain have evolved since 1963.

Back in the 1960s, I've heard from some reputable sources, agencies were much more "do it all marketing companies." The distinctions we make today between a digital agency, an old line agency, an experiential marketing agency, and a marketing strategy firm would be foreign and meaningless back then, because agencies, in many cases, handled all elements of a client's customer facing presence. This was marketing in it purest form. The agency handled research, ideas, creation of message, art, and getting it out to the market. In many cases, agency folks would do things they had no idea how to do, but succeeded anyway. From what I've heard, it was (even removing all the booze, womanizing, and other crap,) a much more exciting time.

I work in a marketing consultancy. We do things that agencies would have done in the 1960s without knowing they were doing them. Did they do those things as well as a specialist would do today? Probably not--but I'm also willing to bet that marketing has lost something to over-specialization and fragmentation. Having all of the people thinking about a brand under one roof has huge benefits. Network effects drove huge creative outbursts and incredible innovation in marketing in the 1960s and 1970s. This is similar to a Google today, at least what I imagine Google to be. You have a company trying to do a whole bunch of cool stuff; specialization has not yet occurred, and innovation happens.

Much more of marketing has been brought in house by companies trying to save money. A lot of this was definitely good, but I think it can also be stagnating. Having people working on your customer facing presence who were working on, say, London Fog last year has benefits. I'm not saying that companies should look to "re outsource" the marketing function, but it's an interesting idea. H1: A company that came along today looking to trade on network effects of multiple creatives handling all elements of a company's customer facing presence... from sales to TV to database to you name it... and really executed on it (and not just said it) might actually be able to make some serious hay.

This is why it would be tough to make a Mad Men today about a company in the "marketing business". If you were going to make a show that good about a company today, it would probably take place at Google. Actually, let's try "company shows" most emblematic of their decade:
  • 1960s: Mad Men (Advertising)
  • 1980s: L.A. Law (Legal)
  • 1990s: Office Space (IT.. ok, it's a movie, but give me a better one)
  • 2000s: Project Runway (Fashion)

Seems like a Google show needs to get made.

P.S. As far as Mad Men last night, while initially underwhelmed, I've been thinking about the episode all morning, which probably means it was actually really good. I didn't like the birth flashback at first, but I now think it was really clever. I loved the London Fog sales call, and I guess the thing that struck me there was that Don was essentially out of ideas and looked pretty impotent. The Sal scene with the bellhop was so awkward but great... and finally Pete's behavior as the junior executive we love to hate reached new levels. Lots of great aesthetic pieces too--the Japanese porn, the Stolichnaya as a cuban cigar equivalent, the use of raincoats as metaphor for (staying in the closet; hiding from the past)... By the way I'm headed to Baltimore tonight. Should I be worried?

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