Publicis + Omnicom: Will big data swallow up creativity?

Shark on the prowl for a meal

Shark Week?

A few years ago during another period of ad agency consolidation, there arrived a press release from a firm called Conglomocon. It turned out to be a parody (I wish I could remember the source) and it came to mind last week when I read (in dead tree media) about the creation of a real-life conglomocon—the new Publicis Omnicom Group.

Some fun facts about the proposed merger:

Combined revenue as of 2012: $23 billion

Total number of employees: Over 130,000

Selected major shared clients: Johnson & Johnson, Mars, McDonald’s, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble

Potential for conflicts: PepsiCo and Coca Cola, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon

Raison d’être:  “great respect” of the founders for each other and their respective companies, operational synergies.

Of course, the real point of this supersized alliance is to capitalize on big data. To bring down the cost of online media and win back the clients and budgets that new-to-marketing competitors like Google and other Internet data-profiting behemoths have taken from traditional agencies.

Anti-trust, client conflicts, new business models aside, the merger raises two big issues that regulators–not to mention consumers of the brands the new agency represents–may want to consider:

Efficiency. Is it really smart to pursue one atomized consumer at a time? And what if web visitors simply opt-out of ad tracking (something Google already allows you to do). Does the sheer tonnage of outreach overcome those who resist? Online ads are different from print or TV. They’re more intrusive and not in a good way, so arguably not as effective. How does that affect a brand’s image and consumer attitudes over time?

Creativity. Is bigger better for creativity? Process and discipline are great (see: creative brief), but can disruptive, imaginative thinking flourish in an organization dedicated more to accumulating assets and data than fostering design? Human behavior is notoriously impervious to algorithms. We’re unpredictable. We act in unexpected ways. When the sheer force of data (and organizational heft) trump creativity, we lose one of the most powerful tools we have to change peoples’ minds and hearts. And that’s fatal to our industry and society.

Interestingly, in none of the official communiqués issued about the new agency was there any mention of creativity at all. Yet, it’s the essence of why agencies exist. That omission is telling in itself.


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