We are now engaged in a great Civil War

I often think of those words from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address when I read Ad Age. April 16 - lincoln-gettysburg-banner

Since the market
meltdown, the publication has become a horrified witness to the advertising
versions of Antietam, Shiloh and, yes, Gettysburg itself. Every week, one advertising expert will bemoan the industry's plight
while another guru pushes back and says, 'No, these are great times for

And, it's set
against articles announcing yet another major marketer's decision to decouple
its ad budgets and spend the dollars in other, more cost-effective, one-to-one

The ad industry is
in a state of turmoil akin to the 1917 Russian Revolution. And, social media is
this revolution's Lenin. Long-standing traditions, icons and business practices
are being swept aside as marketers take a deep pause and ask, 'Why am I
advertising in the first place?'

The big holding
companies are desperately retrofitting their broken models as they're being
squeezed by their owners to make Draconian cuts, freeze all salary raises and
bonuses and bill, bill, bill. It must make for great workplace environments.

Ad Age reflects
this angst and uncertainty. And, you can tell that marketers aren't sure what's
appropriate in this chaotic, cataclysmic era either. Nationwide Insurance, for
example, is shelling out $178 million for a traditional campaign that revives
its old 'Nationwide is on your side' theme. They think it will 'comfort'
current and prospective policyholders. Yeah, sure. Give me $178 million and
I'll show you 178 million better ways to engage in a dialogue with your

Then there's
Brink's Home Security, which is playing on people's fears and, in the process,
increasing alarm system sales by 10 percent. Their spots show a scared woman
all alone in a house that's about to be broken into until, bam, the Brink’s
alarm system screams out with the same deafening sounds of a 747 's engines and
the scoundrel scampers off into the darkness. Talk about taking advantage of
people's deepest, darkest fears. 

Ad Age's editorial
pages are ground zero for the meltdown. A newspaper publisher penned a letter
to the editor likening himself to one of the musicians on the Titanic and
vowing, as they did, to go down with his ship. An op-ed warns big agencies that
smarter, swifter and smaller shops are gaining in popularity with clients. Then
there's a cool profile of a magazine called Vice that, perhaps not so
surprisingly considering its name and content, is thriving as other media
properties go belly up.

Advertising is
engaged in a great civil war. Traditionalists still believe the old model works
(and companies like Nationwide reinforce such antiquated thinking with their
new campaign). At the same time, the digital/social media types are gaining
more and more business. And, smaller shops are springing up faster than dandelions
in May. Most in the industry seem shell-shocked, unsure of their fate and
uncertain what, exactly, they should do.

It all makes for
great reading and is akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion. It's also
very cool to be a PR guy reading all this stuff. Along with digital and
word-of-mouth firms, we're beautifully positioned to fill the massive gaps that
are now appearing.

To close the loop
on the Civil War analogy, I'm afraid Appomatox Court House is on the horizon
for the many advertising types who can't adapt fast enough.

One thought on “We are now engaged in a great Civil War

  1. Outstanding post, as usual, Steve. $178 million for a 25-year-old traditional TV/print campaign? Obviously Nationwide never listened to Gil Scott-Heron: “The revolution will not be televised.” And, speaking as a representative of one of those smaller, swifter and (hopefully) smarter firms blending marketing and public relations, I’m looking forward to meeting Bob Lee at the courthouse. 🙂
    Roger Friedensen, APR
    The Catevo Group