Ad Land Needs To Stop Playing Social Warrior Or It Will Be F@cked!

Ad Land Needs To Stop Playing Social Warrior Or It Will Be F@cked!
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In his new column, industry sage and agitator Robert Strohfeldt, takes a look at agency lands’s newest threat – consultancy firms moving in on its turf. And, he argues, many agencies are too busy playing social warrior to see the pending threat that’s about to bite them all in the backside…

This week there have been two articles in this publication on a major threat the industry has been facing for many years.

The first one was the rise of consultancy groups moving in on ad land’s turf. B&T published it here. While a second appeared on a rival title and involved Accenture offering technology for these consultancies to bring media buying in-house.

I have been watching the big advisory (once chartered accountants) and management consulting firms slowly, but steadily, move in on our business since the early 90s. (A couple of smaller local chartered accounting groups were looking at this as far back as 1983). They are business advisors and adding our traditional suite of services allows them to offer the whole package.

The threat was covered in detail in a four- part series of articles done last year on Existential Threats to Advertising Agencies.

We have simply accepted the garbage the Google/Facebook duopoly produces internally on their performance and made merry with the increased revenue online media has brought to what was once a very low margin business. Bloody hell, if you keep your hand in the till long enough you will get caught. But no one seemed to think of the longer- term consequences, not only for themselves, but the massive reputational damage it would do to the industry as a whole.

We are meant to be trusted advisors, not sales people and by accepting the online duopoly’s garbage, we have opened a gap big enough to drive a truck through for the advisory and consulting firms.

We bang on to clients about trust and how it is a cornerstone of a brand’s image, yet we have lost trust from the business community at large. And trust is something the advisory and consulting firms have over us. Their entrée to clients is through CEOs and boards on major issues of audit, tax, compliance and strategy. They have (and always have had)) access to the most sensitive and useful of client information. They are perceived as serious and trusted advisors, not salespeople and whacky creatives. Yet, when it comes to ideas and entrepreneurship, we leave this guys for dead. But we do not seem to be promoting our strengths – the old WIIFM. We forget the basics of our core business when promoting the benefits of our industry to clients. The smartest, most lateral thinkers I have had the pleasure of knowing and/or working with have been from within the advertising business.

But while all of this has been happening, many in our industry have been too busy playing social warrior to notice.

A great example hit me yesterday with a copy of the latest (bugger it, will name them as they have form) Ad News. 

Whilst we are bleeding trust and clients, they have a major feature on diversity – The cover is dominated by the headline “Cultural Whitewash.” The article starts off with: “Multi-culturalism has been in the spotlight politically with the Alt Right becoming more vocal in Brexit, Trump and One Nation” (That One Nation had their arse kicked in the recent WA state election was not mentioned. Nor the reasons behind the relatively sudden rise of a large group of disenfranchised people. But hey, these people are white, so they don’t matter).

No mention of the Totalitarian Left. The fanatics who want to shut down free speech and crucified Bill Leak for a cartoon that highlighted the biggest problems facing Indigenous communities – parental neglect (particularly by fathers), alcohol abuse and the resulting domestic violence. What they also missed was the question of what will happen to the poor youth depicted in the middle of the cartoon? (Domestic violence and substance abuse is cyclical. Nearly all perpetuators grew up in households where this was the norm.) Instead of seeing it as a piece of insightful social commentary, they called him a racist c….t. (These people mostly grew up in privileged households and have never ventured out to these remote communities.)

No mention of the disgraceful actions of the Human Rights Commission and Professor Triggs, who lied, without a care, to a parliamentary enquiry. But this seems to be ok as the head of the ACTU has come out and said it is ok to break unjust laws. Really? And who decides whether a law is “unjust”? That is a matter for the courts, not a screaming mob.

Let’s get back to their claim on diversity:

They claim advertising has a long way to go to address cultural diversity with two-thirds of the population (66.67 per cent), speaking a language other than English at home.

Really? They must have been to the Facebook school of statistics.

According to the Census of 2011, the proportion of households that only spoke English at home was 76.8 per cent. The 2005 Census had this figure at 79 per cent. A change of 2.2 per cent over five years. A further five years on and Ad News has this figure at only 33.33 per cent. (What happened to all those English only speakers over the past five years?)

Break down the figures of the non-English speaking households in 2011 and some of the “major non-English languages” were:

  • Mandarin 1.6 per cent
  • Italian 1.4 per cent
  • Arabic 1.3 per cent
  • Cantonese 1.2per cent
  • Greek 1.2 per cent

This is not to say the NESB (Non- English speaking background) market is not important, but the cultural differences within this broad classification are huge. To focus on these small sub-segments of the population at the expense of the majority is a fool’s game.

The goal should be to focus on what we have in common, not what divides us. (The major reason for the rise of the Alt Right. Physics applies to all of nature. Newton’s Third Law – for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The nutters of the left and right are different sides of the same coin).

One statistic the chattering classes ignore is that 30 per cent of SMEs (Chifley Research Centre 2014) are owned by migrants. Instead of wringing hands and complaining about how heartless and unrepresentative Australian society is, go back through the history of successful businesses and first and second generation migrants make up a hugely disproportionate percentage of the owners and CEOs – they also come here for the abundant opportunities available. It has been this way for generations. I have not yet met a successful client who comes from a migrant background (hang on, that is most of us) who questioned the ethnicity of the team working on their business. They only insist on two things – expertise and integrity. (Two areas the industry has gone backwards in.)

Toyota is a great example of balance. They have always recognised and targeted NESB communities and women in their advertising. The number one selling vehicle in Australia now is the Toyota HiLux. It didn’t attain this position by being the vehicle of choice for ISIS. (Though their choice of HiLux for carrying .50 calibre machine guns, able to withstand the recoil of firing 800 rounds a minute, does add to the reputation for toughness). It is a vehicle with broad appeal, though its legendary reputation for being “unbreakable” and genesis as a tradie vehicle positions it appealing more to the “Aussie Bloke” (who can be of any colour or ethnic background), than a specialist vehicle for carrying halal meat.

Having run well over 1000 focus groups in the past 30 years, I have talked to the full spectrum of Australian society. And that is what the overwhelming majority of migrants come here for – to be Australian. No, they do not forget their cultural heritage, but some of the most patriotic Australians I have met moved here from other countries because they wanted to be part of Australian culture. (The egalitarian nature of our society and freedom of speech were major drawcards). We are one of the oldest democracies and most culturally diverse societies in the world. It is not a recent phenomenon, as the Twitterarti would have us believe.

This is turning into a diatribe on politics and sociology, which was not the original objective.

According to Ad News, the industry is facing a crisis due to lack of diversity. Bullshit. Identity politics will do far more damage. Select talent without fear or favour, it doesn’t matter whether the person is male, female, black white, Catholic, Muslim or Callithumpian. Let talent rise to the top without discrimination (positive or negative).

We should concentrate on the many real threats facing our industry, instead of trying to be social warriors.

“Being good is good for business”. A fact the greats of commerce have known for generations. Instead of grandstanding on fashionable social issues, look for initiatives to help your clients follow this adage and do something of genuine help for the communities they operate in.

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