Forget "Mad Men"—Now Is The Golden Era For Advertising

Oftentimes when people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I work in advertising, they ask, "Don’t you wish you got to be an ad man in the golden era, like on Mad Men?" I usually smile and respond with "What makes you think the golden era was 40 years ago? We are living in the golden era right now—the most exciting and unpredictable time in marketing history." We are witnessing a complete social transformation. The entire industry has been flipped on its head.

So what’s changed? In the '60s, agencies controlled a brand’s message and how it was broadcast to an extremely broad target audience on a small number of platforms. Today, consumers are in control; scattered across a variety of social networks, niche online communities are very selective about what they want to consume and the mediums through which they want to consume it. It is a common industry consensus that bombarding or spamming consumers with intrusive advertising and brand messages simply no longer works, not to mention it’s incredibly expensive. So why do so many brands and agencies keep making the same mistakes?

Well, it’s mostly an organizational problem. In the post-digital age, everyone’s roles are blurred and traditional agency conventions are being challenged to keep pace with ever-changing client demands. We can no longer continue to apply old methodologies to an evolving new-media landscape. We need to get acclimated with operating in a state of chaos. The old-school bureaucracy of the suit briefing the planner, the planner briefing creative, and the creative team going away and cooking up some ideas is dead. "Agency of record" relationships are becoming increasingly rare and clients are opting to work with a variety of specialists in the areas of digital, social, mobile, and PR. As a result, agencies have had to change the way they do business, rethink the services that they offer, hire different types of people, and modify how internal teams are structured.

Those that are truly devoted to forging ahead have accepted that to compete, it is no longer adequate to just have the best creative talent; rather, you need to have the best multi-disciplinary teams. At Tribal DDB, every member of our team is creative and we believe a good idea can come from anywhere. Everyone’s a little bit of a strategist, account manager, new businessperson—yet each of us has our own specialized role based on an area of expertise. We work together, not in silos. This has positioned us well to embrace an unpredictable, albeit exciting future.

Rethinking how we work has naturally impacted the future direction of our business and the type of creative executions we craft for our clients. Increasingly, our solutions are geared around the creation and distribution of content through social, mobile, and other emerging mediums, rather than ads. We have recently made documentaries, branded content, and a feature-length film, to name a few. And we’ve been having a lot of fun doing it. 

We view our approach as brand journalism: a focus on the creation of authentic content and proactive participation in the social media arena—where we help our clients be nimble, conversational, and opportunistic. We do this by uncovering the core stories at the heart of a brand, creating multiple supporting narratives, and then seeding these narratives to their intended audiences where they are most likely to encounter them. It’s an ongoing process of content creation, aggregation, distribution, and publishing.

As an agency it is our goal to make 2012 the year of great content. Content that breaks through the clutter, has context, provides information, entertainment, or utility. Content that is authentic and real and will help our clients change the conversation, because brands that get talked about are brands that get bought.

So how are we going to continue to do this? We’re going to stick to our principles. Twelve years ago, Tribal DDB was founded on the idea that to be successful for our clients, we need to leverage the talents of our Tribe to build Tribes for our clients’ brands. We believe that in order to do that, we need to focus on their consumers as people and create content and experiences for them that appeal to their emotional interests and needs. The technology of our industry must always be used in service of an idea and to form a greater connection—not with more screens, but with the person on the other side of those screens.

In 2012, agencies and clients will continue to have to work more collaboratively to better understand who their customers really are, their interests, issues, and passions and engage them through the best content possible. We truly are in a golden era, a period of unlimited creative opportunity. So make it good because consumers no longer tune you in; they decide whether or not to tune you out. 

—Author Matt Nelson is the director of social media strategy for Tribal DDB.

[Image: AMC]

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  • Steve Rogai

     Yeah, it's a simple process for getting viewers interested, but if this is any indication of present trends, it can still work with the older generations.  They can relate to that feeling that it's your friend telling you about the product rather than a pitchman.

  • Karl Gromelski

    Bjorgvin, I think you're on to something here. And this is
    probably where the old guard severely differs from the young Turks. The reason
    "advertising bores the living heck out of people" is because creating
    good advertising requires a painstaking process that few brands and many
    agencies no longer have the patients for

    Although the ways to deliver brand messages have changed
    (i.e., social media), the strategic thinking that should go into creating them doesn't.
    And therein lies the rub. Just because we can publish our thoughts almost as fast as we type them
    doesn't necessarily make them worthwhile nor accurate.

    THIS is why I take exception to in this article. A social
    media director from a worldwide agency pretends to compare the greatness of
    yesteryear's creative minds to today's folks who publish "content" as
    fast as their smartphones will let them. Work that largely goes ignored. Work that's created on the fly. Work that's typically forgotten as quickly as it was created. And, he has the gall to declare
    that "Now is the Golden Era for Advertising." This would be akin to
    Mike, the Situation, making a speech at the Emmys stating that now is the new golden
    era for television! (Oh, and don't forget to watch the next episode of Jersey
    Shore on MTV.)
    As an ad guy who learned the
    craft from the legends, worked in the business for decades (and still does) and
    continues to love the ad business, I find this article appalling and egregious.
    Presented on a national stage, this article reeks of the snake oil and used car
    salesmen pitches that give advertising and real ad men a bad name. I'm
    astounded that guys like Mike Parker and Robert Rasmussen would allow such
    amateurish and frivolous writing to carry the Tribal DDB name.

    What would Bernbach have done?
    He surely would have kicked this article back for a rewrite.
    Beside the writing flaws articulated by Sean below, this article is poorly written. For example, if the Golden Era was 40 years ago, then Mad Men
    would have taken place in the 70's not 60's. In addition, the punctuation is sloppy. (AP Stylebook states not to use a comma before the conjunction in a
    simple series.) Plus, the article pretends to address an industry hot button, which he sidesteps with a spiel about how awesome Tribal DDB is.

    This is a perfect example of what's wrong with the industry

    Smart agencies and savvy clients understand that even blogs need to
    adhere to professional standard that carries a strategic message.Why doesn't the author?

    The ironic thing about this article/expert blog is that it
    was probably intended to be fast food - something you consumed and forgot
    about. But because it was presented in a credible publication, promoted by
    LinkedIn and features such a provocative headline, most of us expected a
    5-course meal. We did not get it.

    Despite what some might think, I'm not bitter about the
    changes the industry has gone through nor have any sour grapes about the new regime. I often
    mentor new creatives. I welcome the next generation of "Mad Men" who
    want to carry the torch and make us all proud of the profession many of us are
    still passionate about.

    All I ask is that when you're bestowed the title of
    "director" and you're given the opportunity to write an article about
    the future of our business, have the courtesy not to abuse the national stage and
    use it for your personal gain.


    BTW Jeff -

    Old world advertising delivered much better ROI then what's
    seen today. Running a commercial on TV nearly guaranteed you an instant 10%
    increase in sales. But that's because the Golden Era of Advertising coincided
    with the Golden Era of TV. So it's an unfair comparison.

    As far as your questions about media and customer control,
    the truth is nothing has really changed. Your brand simply has dozens of new
    options in which you can express your message and engage your customers. Yes,
    the messages need to be created at a faster pace, but they should still be
    based on your brand promise and your overall strategy to differentiate yourself
    from your competitors. A big reason advertising falls on deaf ears today is because
    the client or agency doesn't want to do research or involve account planners in
    the process. If your agency isn't insisting on this. They are doing you a

    When you've got a succinct creative brief based on research
    and strategy, you'll see the hot debates in the board rooms change its tone

    In Bernbach's day, shooting from the hip with campaigns like
    "We try harder" was acceptable because of the promise of ROI I stated
    earlier. Today, it's much more expensive to roll out any kind of campaign. So
    you should approach your advertising like a sniper and not someone with a
    shotgun. If you can't define your target audience, what you should say and how
    you should say it, you're in the presence of true Mad Men.

  • Bjorgvin

    It seems this article is too simple for many of my friends in the industry.  Interestingly enough, most of you are still doing advertising in the same old fashion and will never learn to change because the environment you are in doesn't allow for it.   Advertising bores the living heck out of people - why is that? The article states the obvious, no doubt.  We are now in the middle of an era where culture changes in matter of years vs generations and advertising has not kept up!  I would very much welcome a follow up discussion on the matter.  


    -Bjorgvin Saevarsson

  • jeff kimbell

    I am shocked at how many negative people there are commented on this.  This is a thoughtful, well-intentioned article written by a guy trying to do his best.  Some of the comments are shocking - if my 10 year old son spoke like many of you I would have a serious talk with him.  Are you adults?  Then act like it and show some respect.  It is perfectly fine, and healthy, to debate things you disagree with but to make negative, personal attacks on someone is out of line and VERY unprofessional.  If many of you really are still in advertising that are writing these attacks on Matt I certainly wouldn't hire you or your firm due to you utter lack of professionalism.  Good job Matt - I enjoyed the article. 

  • Sean Peake


    Jeff, this is why I wrote my comments. 

    First, Matt wrote an ad (or advertorial in jargonese). 

    Second, He makes a declarative statement that we’re in a
    golden era now, without ever backing up that statement with hard facts and
    numbers showing success.  Rather, we read
    that this is so because of the new structures and KINDS of people now employed
    at agencies.  The golden age, to my mind,
    was when the brilliance of the work was at its peak.  No one today can say that social/digital/whatever
    media creative is at its peak.  It is in
    its youth or, to use a hackneyed expression, its Salad Days.  As for saying that everyone is creative,
    that’s Tee-Ball trophy logic.  And consensus
    creative is no creative at all.  True
    brilliance or insight comes from a single mind not a group. (Remember what a
    pain in the ass it is when trying to order in food a for a brainer?  Everyone has their preference and few agree…
    unless it pizza without pineapple.)

    Third, Matt’s overreliance clichés and empty expressions—flipped
    on its head, state of chaos (is there a Duchy of Chaos?), impacted, narratives,
    proactive, breaks through the clutter—only weaken his case.

    Fourth, he says that now the customer is in control.  Really? 
    So I guess during the Mad Men days, consumers were forced to watch and
    read our ads—the Ludovinco technique comes to mind in Clockwork Orange.  Rubbish. 
    Customers have always been in control except now they have different
    ways to tune us out. 

    Fifth, he states that brands that get talked about are
    brands that get bought.  Unproven
    hyperbole.  When
    I eavesdrop in on conversations when I ride the bus or perch on a stool at
    the bar what I don’t hear is people talking about the new improved Quaker State oil or how
    Herbal Essence makes hair really shiny. What I do hear is their life.  The only time most people talk
    about a “brand” is when it screwed up—RIM’s network fiasco is a fine
    example.  The problem is that agencies
    and clients are under the false assumption that people truly care about the
    brands they choose.  They don’t.  Only zealots like themselves, do.  The vast majority are occasional users.   It would be nice to turn them into zealots
    but that’s not going to happen.  Besides,
    who yearns for a conversation with a brand?  I don’t, and I’m pretty sure most other people
    don’t either—does anyone want a needy, clingy brand?

    Finally, what Matt wants his agency to achieve is nothing new.  It is what
    creatives have always strived to achieve: to make our ads interesting.  Tell a story or show stunning imagery that
    relates to the product, sure.  Provide
    some fact or information (is this his authentic content?) the reader may not
    have known, absolutely.  But as Martin
    Weigel of Canalside View rightly said, “If you want to succeed, you’ve got to
    assume no one cares.” 


    Look, it’s same game but now it’s played different fields.

  • jeff kimbell

    Sean - thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I was hoping we could have an intellectual discussion and debate on several points because that is healthy and we might all learn something from each other.  The point of my post was that the personal attacks on Matt are uncalled for and unprofessional and take away from the positive dialogue that can and should take place on these message boards.  In reading your points there are three topics that peak my interest and I would love to hear further from you and others on your point of view:

    1.  Which has a better ROI - the "new world" or "old world" of Marketing - has anybody seen any data to suggest one way or another?  I have never been in the advertising industry but have purchased advertising services from numerous agencies over the past 20 years on the client side.  One thing that is ALWAYS hotly debated in client board rooms is whether or not the company is getting value for the money they spend on advertising and Marketing more broadly.    Would be fascinated to learn of any studies that have been done comparing the old and new worlds.

    2.  The customer is more in control now than in the past - if I read your first post correctly I think you were suggesting that ad agency management, holding company executives, etc are the ones who have driven the change to social media and other digital forms of Marketing?  If so, I respectfully disagree.  I believe consumers are using new media to push back on brands, share brands they like with their friends, inquire about deep product information that wasn't available in the past, etc, etc.  And, they also are tuning out traditional advertising....making it more and more irrelevant.  I think consumers have driven this trend not ad agency execs and are more in control than in the past.   Am I understanding your point of view correctly and do you agree/disagree?

    3.  Implication of new Marketing techniques on Ad Agency org structure - I think Matt's point on this was very valid.  Again, I've never worked in an agency, but with the emergence of new media outlets it seems to me that media buyers, as an example, are now involved way more in the front of the client engagement than they ever used to be.  I currently have 3 different agencies under contract and was speaking to the media buyer at one of them yesterday and he said he has been in the industry 15 years and his job today is WAY different than it used to be because of how Marketing has changed.  I don't think an agency has cracked the code yet on what org structure works most effectively in the new world and would love to hear experiences and points of view on what works best?

  • Larry Aarons

    It seems that a real Mad Man is Geoff VreekenBTW many of us 60s guys are still working making $, are u?Lighten up.

  • viv

    This soap opera is riveting! In all honesty, I have to admit the comments are way more interesting than the article (and they oughta be, since the most vitriolic ones were "crafted" by the vangaurd of advertising)
    How did I stumble upon this piece of writing?
    I opened my email, saw what Linked In has recommended on yet another "jobless" day, found the headline enticing, reached here and read it all, and what do I see?

    An innocuous piece of writing if taken with a pinch of salt. That's all and nothing more. But, some comments reek of misguided vile, intended more at the author and less at the writing. 

    And yes, golden age of advertising isn't over. We only have to write much more across all media minus the sex, drugs and rock and roll of advertising. 

    Choose not to disagree, but to ignore. Keep the internet clean, conscience cleaner! 

  • TierraDelFuego

    Agree, Geoff. So many petty haters going so far out of their way to tear down someone else. Gotta be a sign of unemployment. Or just a comment about their character.

  • G W Beers

    Geoff, I am amazed at you insight. Your gift for deducing from blog responses, those who are employed and those who aren't , is just inspiring. Perhaps off message for the point of this forum, but provocative in regard to blog analytics. But be honest now Geoff, haven't some of your best talents come those old men you met in those dark midnight movie theaters?

  • Geoff Vreeken

    Wow, nice comments. I haven't seen so many old men crying since that midnight screening of Old Yeller. Perhaps Matt hasn't commented on this inane trolling because he's working. You know, work ... that thing none of you seem to be able to get.

  • @ccboak

    If the customer is control why the hell do we have to sit for 30 seocnds watching some pre-roll crap. I guess because I can turn the sound down thats control.

  • Karl Gromelski

    The irony here is how this Director of social media, who's job it is to address consumer interests, issues and passion... who's supposed to engage them thru social media... has been AWOL in this conversation of the "Golden Era of Advertising" for an entire week!
    If I was a potential client thinking about hiring DDB Tribal - I'd make me wonder if something negative ever came up about my brand - would Matt allow it go for 27 comments before he defended me? Would he admit he made a mistake? Would he apologize for his ruse? Or would he abandon me to spend more time in his comfort zone tweeting to his 768 followers that "Haters are gonna hate?"
    Matt - one golden rule to social media is being transparent...
    Another is accepting responsibility for ones actions.
    If you're going to write an "expert blog" on such a provocative thesis, you might want to anticipate that they'll be folks who'll disagree with you. Stay quiet in the face of adversity may get you ahead in the agency game, but it sure won't win you points in the world of social media.

  • Robb

    Oh, one more thing...GOLD??? Nobody wants to pay for or can afford GOLD. Think Lead. The lead age of advertising is at hand. Cheap and fast.

  • Robb

    Delivered in my bestest 1960's radio voice: "This message is brought to you by Tribal DDB. That's Tribal DDB for all your social media needs."

  • ttoscano

    What else has changed?  He can't smoke, drink and have sex in the office.  

  • David Nemiah

    Hi Matt - you seem to have stirred up quite a reaction here.

    Personally I find it sad to see the old advertising model fall away, and I have a vested interest having been at DDB NY in the early 1990s. But I am fascinated to see the new traditions that are taking shape and, despite the negative comments below, I suspect they are here to stay and we will all get acclimated to the paid/owned/earned model sooner than later. Creativity will prevail, but with an expanded portfolio.

    BTW - I think your blog is the single best public flashpoint I've personally seen online that expresses the friction between old & new. Great for the historical record. I plan to get on your feed, and look forward to continued fireworks!

  • Sean Peake

    Golden Era my ass. The gold in your Golden Era is actually a
    stream of urine directed at the creative legacy of our business.  Today, charlatans and fools, bean-counters
    and holding company sycophants have sucked the life out of the industry. And if
    this piece is an example of your authentic and real content, Capote’s comment
    about Kerouac’s work comes to mind: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”