Andrew Y&R
Creativity is not going out of fashion in the ad industry, however high digital media soars, according to Andrew Dimitriou, CEO - EMEA at VMLY&R. Image Credit: VMLYR

Dubai: It’s time to stop labelling ad agencies as traditional, digital, creative or boutique – none of these stick any longer.

“Clients need agencies that aren’t channel specialists but specialists in customer experience,” said Andrew Dimitriou, CEO for the Europe, Middle East and Africa territory at VMLY&R, which is part of the extended WPP portfolio of agencies. “Industry commentators love to create labels and play agencies against one another.

“But the important thing that often gets overlooked is that successful, impactful, result-driving advertising looks less and less like traditional and rigid definitions of advertising. And I believe this is something our industry as a whole is embracing.

“I see our role as helping to find meaningful ways to enter in people’s daily lives and to empower people to create the world they want with every purchase and connection. The big winners of this shift – agency-side – will be those who will continue to reinvent themselves and help brands and businesses not only communicate but think and do.”

Them against everyone else

For some time now, the narrative surrounding the global ad industry has been about two distinct camps. One populated by the technology-media giants such as Google and Facebook, with Amazon also coming up fast, and the rest of the advertising fraternity on the other.

The narrative has also been about one camp – you know which one - winning at the expense of the other. But agencies are not about to lay down their skills in total surrender.

“The landscape is changing rapidly, which means there are many opportunities for agencies to develop and tap new growth opportunities,” said Dimitriou. “It’s worth noting many forces over the last decade have already forced agencies to upgrade.

“At the same time, we see a completely different world emerging - one where clients need help navigating the avalanche of data and driving real human insight. So, in 2020, agencies will either redesign their process, workforce, and capability to activate brands in people’s lives - irrespective of channel - or find themselves falling further into irrelevance.

Because simply changing technology or “doing” digital is not enough. There is a need for a digital evolution fundamentally changing how brands and agencies create, deliver and capture value.”

Let’s not forget creativity

Dimitriou is among the believers who reckon creativity will never go out of style, whatever be the format. “In a world where replication is cheaper and easier than ever, it is the last competitive advantage,” he adds, a touch waspishly. “We will see an ever-increasing need for high-quality campaigns, content... and experiences. And I believe agencies will be at the heart of the upgrade and delivery of impactful campaigns for just about every media type.

“What we offer - and what I believe brands and businesses are needing and looking for - is the ability to connect with people beyond their category expectations of value and quality.”

VMLY&R is one of the agencies within the WPP fold. "The future of our industry belongs to people who will use creativity - by any means necessary..." says Dimitriou. Image Credit: Reuters

A year blighted by a virus

Before the virus outbreak in China and the subsequent doubts cast over global growth, the expectations were that 2020 would see “moderate” growth in ad billings. Dimitriou doesn’t see much need to revise those expectations, the virus notwithstanding.

“While ad growth may be volatile in local markets, the influence of upcoming global events will likely be a key indicator of where we see an increase in ad spend,” he said. “If we take Asia-Pacific as an example, the impact of the coronavirus will likely be outweighed by the investment and attention towards the Tokyo Olympics. Besides, this region will also be the centre of the world with Expo 2020 Dubai and the G20 meetings in Saudi Arabia followed by the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in Marrakesh in 2021.

“In Europe, we see the UK leading the growth despite Brexit. Brands and advertisers should see 2020 as a year of opportunity to connect with valuable global audiences across new and traditional platforms.”

Not blinded by digital
The traditional advertising industry had one strategy to take on the digital giants Google and Facebook - buy up the skills and the tech to become digital themselves. But that alone was never going to work.
“Digital is not - and never was - just a channel or a capability you can buy,” said Andrew Dimitriou of VMLY&R. “It is a paradigm shift in our shared context.
“We evolved slowly in that regard, and while our clients were fundamentally disrupted, we largely failed to disrupt ourselves. But this has changed...
“Beyond digital, the industry is seeing the benefits of integrating experience at the heart of creativity and creativity at the heart of experience. The future of our industry belongs to people who will use creativity - by any means necessary - to transform brands and make them our clients’ most valuable asset.
“WPP has four areas of focus: experience, commerce, technology and communications and our focus is to bring all of these capabilities to help our clients transform their business. I think we’re just starting to understand the power of what we can do when we do it well.”