The adman and the ice age

I was amazed at the retrograde thinking from WPP chief Martin Sorrell in a speech reported by the FT. But Richard Edelman, head of Edelman PR, was even more gobsmacked. He blogged:

Now Sir Martin Sorrell is seeking to turn back time to a fairyland that he and other advertising executives knew so well, when media was only old media, when top down marketing prospered, and when control of the message was paramount. Sorrell’s speech… is absolutely stunning in its recidivism.

Among Sorrell’s gems as reported by the FT:

“How do you deal with socialistic anarchists?” he asked, referring to Craigslist, the popular, free classified advertising site that has been threatening revenues at US city newspapers.

“The internet is the most socialistic force you’ve ever seen,” he added….

Well, actually, I think the internet is potentially the most capitalistic force yet invented, empowering the individual and the small business to control their fates and their value.

It seems that Sorrell is defining capitalism as buying up ever more companies, since that’s what he does. But that, I say, is not the essence of the free economy. The individualistic anarchy — the free marketplace — of the internet is much purer.

The internet is not a socialist collective. That’s not to say that we do not end up acting in collective ways. The internet enables societies to form as well, even when they don’t know it — that is, when the data about our activities shows, after the fact, that great minds think alike. Still, the wired are not pinkos.

Sorrell next whines about media giving away content for free:

“They have decided – ‘if I don’t eat my children, somebody else will’,” … adding that he disapproved of giving away content for free. “You should charge for it if the consumer values the content,” he said.

Well, ain’t that ironic? Here’s an ad guy staring incredible new advertising opportunities and availabilities in the face and he can’t see that this is the greatest gift his industry could ever have imagined: the end of scarcity, the introduction of endless competition for ad dollars, lower prices meeting greater effectiveness. Wake up, mate!

Next, Sorrell complains that companies are losing talent because young people don’t want to devote themselves to slow-moving heirarchies. How shall I put this, Sir: Well, duh?

And then, as Edelman says, Sorrell gets to his real bottom line. Says the FT:

Sir Martin said that while his agencies and Google were co-existing, the search giant could make life difficult for the advertising industry. “We are Google’s third-largest customer, but on the other hand they are talking about an electronic media buying and planning exchange,” he said referring to a service where advertisers can buy and plan their own media campaigns without going through agencies.

Says Edelman:

The dirty little secret for ad agencies (and hence their holding company owners) is that the real money these days is made in media planning and buying, a model jeopardized by Google and by the dispersion of media which disrupts advertising price points.

Here is the reality. The peer-to-peer revolution has happened. The genie is not going back into the bottle. Paul Saffo, technology futurist,who addressed Edelman’s management meeting on Tuesday morning in Washington, said,

“We are shifting from information to media. Media is information when it is embedded into our lives. The mass media order that came in the 50s with the advent of television is shifting to personal media. Mass media brought the world to us on a one way street. Now in the era of personal media, you must answer back, you must be engaged. There can be no bystanders in this revolution….” . . . .

So there you have it, Sir Martin’s fervent wish that the world returns to a walled garden of proprietary content, a well manicured lawn and beautifully tended flowers where marketers reach consumers through saturation advertising or direct mail or other one way push tactics versus the Saffo/Jarvis/Gillmor view of a chaotic world of continuous discussion, learning from the crowd and remixed media where companies must cede control to gain credibility. To me the choice is as clear as Berlin before the fall of the wall and the Berlin of today.

[Full disclosure: I was brought in to run a panel at the Edelman management meeting in Washington yesterday.]

: FRIDAY UPDATE: The FT sums up the reaction to old Sir Martin’s daydreaming.