Ad Industry Lags Behind in Innovation

There’s a lot of discussion around innovation in marketing these days. Joseph Jaffe is legitimately trying to find out who is doing innovative things in the various communication disciplines of marketing. I can’t wait to hear his analysis of the feedback he receives.
Max Kalehoff makes a very interesting point that the ad industry is usually behind when it comes to innovation. Most of the innovative ideas are coming from companies like Google, Yahoo! and Apple. He argues that it is because these companies put dollars and emphasis behind R & D along with some other interesting point. There are quite a few comments on his post worth reviewing.
My take is that agencies in general (interactive, traditional and otherwise) tend to sell what they know the client will buy (with some exceptions of course). Agencies take the fastest path to cash or the path of least resistance. Many clients want assurance that their agency can deliver results, and they generally want evidence of it. Most clients will not want to fund experimentation for initiatives or tactics that don’t have any kind of track record. I have experienced that again and again. It’s a very hard sell, and you need an incredible amount of trust and a great relationship with your client to get them to move into new space that requires significant capital with no guarantee of success.
Doing the R & D on your own dime is not very likely either. Because agencies serve their clients, and because the industry is so competitive, most agencies can’t charge enough to build the necessary cash reserve to fund non-billable experimentation.
So what’s the answer? Part of me thinks that agencies have to play a little further upstream than they are used to. They need to get back to working with clients on strategy instead of just delivering on tactics. If you can position yourself as a resource for innovation, creativity and strategy, you may be able to influence the client to go down a road not yet traveled and do something truly innovative. Often, this space is internalized, goes to the consultants or niche companies like IDEO.
If you have examples of agencies playing in this space and having success, please share. There has been plenty written about Agency.com and their poor execution of a forward-thinking approach to a client pitch, including my colleague Carrie’s post a week ago. So what else have you seen?

One thought on “Ad Industry Lags Behind in Innovation

  1. Innovation + “Advertising”?
    See R/GA for Nike ID and Nikewomen.com
    Nike ID was one of the first to do the Times Square interactive bilboard thing and Nike ID is still a great user experience that was ahead of it’s time.
    Also see the XBOX interface by AKQA

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