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Viral Media Brings Sanity To Ad Biz

Posted by: David Kiley on July 28, 2009


By Jon Bond
Jon Bond is co-chairman and co-founder of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners.

The advertising agency business began in the 19th century with the premise that by giving away the creative idea, the advertising agency could convince the client to allow them to place their media, thus netting a tidy 15% commission. Basically, the idea was to give away the valuable part, the idea, so that you could get the commodity part, the media, which was where you made all the money.

How stupid is this?

Imagine going to a restaurant and paying $50 for the bread, but getting the full-meal for free. Yet, this is pretty much the way its been for over a century. And you wonder why agency people are a bit nuts.

Today, there is emerging a different dynamic. “Paid” media—the ads we buy on TV, newspapers and magazines—are not what people are talking about. Instead, they are talking about FREE media. The viral video you pass along to your friends….someone’s facebook page…..the online buzz that moves through the planet with blinding speed. Essentially, electronic word of mouth.

And not only is this media all virtually free, but it’s also more persuasive than paid media because it typically comes from someone you know and trust, or is a part of pop culture, which is instant credibility in America, and often instant “cool” as well.

And what is it that moves through this system? It’s the idea. Because the only thing worth passing along is a good idea. It has to actually earn its media the hard way, by being worthy of other people’s time. This new construct has a chance to finally set things straight in ad-land.

Finally, clients will pay for the idea (the steak). And the best ideas will become obvious because they will create more of their own media. WE can get paid more for the better ideas and less for the mediocre ideas, just like a great steak place gets more for their product than a so-so steak restaurant. Again, based on merit. So, when I hear people in the agency world today say they don’t understand this new world, its all too confusing and only my 13 year-old daughter really ‘gets it’, I say, “No,” its you who are twisted and confused. Because you’ve been living with a silly 19th century custom for so long, you actually think it IS reality. It took a century or more, but sanity is just over the horizon in the ad business. Now, maybe some of us ad people will start acting a little less crazy ourselves. Lewis Carrol,forgive us.

Reader Comments

Bob Gilbreath

July 29, 2009 9:04 AM

Great reminder that our ad agency business model is still mainly broken, Jon, and I do agree that we need to shift to a world where winning ideas is where we make our money.

That said, the agency business sure isn't shifting toward this business model. Agencies are still paid by the hour and based on what they actually produce (e.g. create an ad, build a website). As you know from running an agency, it's hard to set up a going business with salaries, healthcare, office space, etc. if you're "getting paid by how many great ideas you come up with." Then throw in the fact that many ideas that the agency believes will win are under-supported by clients, so fail.

I'm sorry to say I don't have a better answer. Maybe, like the healthcare market, (and to borrow from Churchill) the current model is the worst one, expect for all the others.

Bob Gilbreath

Kevin Keenmon

July 29, 2009 10:04 PM

Viral media will definately become an integral part of advertising campaigns in the future. The fact that it comes from friends gives it a very obvious advantage. Whenever we see an Ad on TV or in print, we almost instantly put up a wall to keep from being influenced. When you recieve it from someone you trust, you're a lot more likely to let the information pass through unfiltered.

Kevin's Advertising Blog

Joakim Vars Nilsen

August 12, 2009 7:53 AM

Dear Jon,

nice article. But I believe we should focus on the BIG IDEAL instead of the BIG IDEA. This means you should define a vision, create a plan where you launch several small ideas - use paid-for media to get it going, track results, optimise and then do it again, and again, and again.

Maybe an idea could be to step down and partner more closely up with the clients, understand, define and focus more on results for the clients and perhaps make a retainer deal 1-3 years.


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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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