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Ad agencies are “bottom-feeders” - Alistair King

Alistair King, creative director of KingJames and one of the judges in this year's Loeries Awards, tells it as it is in the industry these days, no holds barred. “We have become bottom-feeders,” he says, talking quite frankly about ad agencies in the new era.
“We get our creative kicks cheaply and without the pain of having to fight with clients and persuade them of the value of a great advertising idea. The pressure of keeping clients is now officially greater than the desire to push them harder to make great advertising.”

Sad indictment

This, he says, is a sad indictment, “not just for agencies but also for marketers, that the best advertising this country makes is seldom for public consumption. It's for industry consumption.

“That needs to change for advertising agencies to earn back the respect it feels it deserves.”

But the future is not all bad, says King. “Agencies, I believe, will continue to grow it skills in making brands live and breathe in multiple places. In fact, agencies that don't learn these skills will perish. The need for innovation will grow as the price of media grows, and this will be good for the agencies that hold the best brains.”

He does not expect any whirlwind changes to how advertisers communicate to consumers, but does expect there to be an incremental move each year towards embracing more and more mobile media.

“I think media is getting more and more fragmented with more and more advertising mediums being on offer, but I do believe it will be a long time before classic advertising on classic mediums like TV, print and radio, will be redundant. I think in the short term, cutting edge technology will create a ton of new advertising vehicles, but I do believe that the bulk of consumers will ingest their advertising the good old fashioned way. In fact, for as long as I have been in advertising, the web has been touted as the next advertising paradigm, and yet here we sit, 15 years later with the web attracting only the slightest portion of ad spend. I find the constant hype around the next big thing to be rather exaggerated.”

Major fragmentation

In the last decade there also appeared to be major fragmentation in a number of areas; in particular strategy and media. “In the '80s, media (planning and buying) was housed in agencies, and was, in fact, the norm for how agencies were remunerated. During the '90s, independent media houses emerged en mass, and marketers often liaise directly with media companies, sometimes independent to its agency.

“In more recent times, media companies, who now find their markup being squeezed, are even attempting to grab a greater portion of the budget by attempting to generate strategy, and even creative. What qualifies them to do so is a mystery to me, but it's happening, and is often painful to witness.

“I believe that media will gradually gravitate back to agencies, and brands will be better off for it. In my opinion, handling media outside of the creative process has been destructive to brands.

“The emergence of strategic consultants is also relatively new. There are some very good strategic companies around, but there are also some shockers. It seems anyone who was once in client service in an agency can now position themselves as a strategic consultant, and charge obscene fees in the process. I am often amazed at how hard it is to get a client to increase their agency retainer by a few thousand rand a month, but how easily that same client will blow a couple of hundred thousand rand on a consultant without blinking. Again, I believe strategy should work in tandem with the creative process, and when it doesn't it is counter productive for brands,” he concludes.

About Vivian Warby

Vivian Warby is a senior freelance journalist for in Cape Town. She can be contacted on target="_blank.

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