Digital Killed The Adman: How technology and data is systematically disrupting traditional agencies

Srinivas Gattamneni, CEO, ADA

The most consistent change of the digital age is the systematic removal of the middle man. This begs the question – what is the role of advertising agencies, if not to be the middle man between clients and consumers?

In the time of the original “Mad Men” – David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach (the B in DDB), and Emerson Foote (the F in FCB) – the concept of the ad man was on the rise. The right ad line and adverts could sell mediocre products as groundbreaking inventions, and mediocre experiences as life-changing essentials. They ruled until the rules changed circa 21st century, when the internet broke all known rules.

The internet changed the rules in two ways however, first is the speed of digital, and the second is the democratisation of data.

The Speed of Digital

digital advertisement

It has been said that in cyberspace, everything moves at the speed of light because technology accelerates things exponentially; things are constantly changing, and we are contributing to that change (Obeng, 2012).

The speed of digital not only accelerates change, but it has also altered the size and scale of how things operate. Consumer behavior is such that people can now connect to brands and make decisions on products in real-time and on a global scale – without waiting for the newspaper, television, or radio to tell them what to buy.

How does this play out in Asia then? According to a Google and Temasek report in 2017, the average hours per person spent on mobile internet usage in Southeast Asia stands at 3.6, with China at 3, compared to 2 hours in the U.S., and 1.8 in the U.K. This predicts a USD 240 billion Internet economy in Southeast Asia alone by the year 2025, and any business not geared to achieve that will be left behind.

The advertising agency business is no different in facing this chasm, having mostly relied on traditional methods of amplification and noise to reach consumers.

In contrast, the digital landscape of an advertising business is vast and unique in its reach, being largely automated, multi-faceted, and highly personal in meeting the needs of consumer trends.

In the millisecond it takes to load a webpage, digital ads go through a virtual bidding war, where multiple and seemingly endless permutations are ranked based on relevance, then matched with infinite combinations of consumer data-points.

Operating at a velocity that flips fundamentals the ad man holds so dearly on its head, the downside of advertising at the speed of digital is that it is self-serve, requiring little, or no face-to-face human interaction.

The Democratisation of Information

digital advertisement

On the business side of things, there is a swift change of data ownership in organisations. In the past, de facto owners of data have typically been the IT department, and business units such as marketing, finance, or even operations were required to pass through these ‘Gatekeepers of Information’.

The evolution of technology has enabled data ownership to shift, and this has empowered the democratisation of information.

Data visualisation software and self-serve business insights tools have made it possible for everyone to easily access data whilst gaining data insights and analytics without professional training in coding or the use of statistical packages like SPSS.

This enable clients to be more informed and empowered by data, which in turn changes the client-agency relationship dynamics dramatically.

Even in the beginning of the digital age, agencies were able to – and even required to – play the role of the middle man. Early adopters and self-proclaimed digital gurus assisted clients in navigating the complex world of bidding, algorithms, and data science.

With the evolution of the self-serve format on advertising platforms, these roles are slowly becoming obsolete – forcing agencies to evolve or become extinct.

The “Agency of the Future”

If these are the growing demands of the market, what will advertising agencies of the future look like? Brands need to keep up with consumers who are becoming increasingly digitally savvy, demanding hyper-personalisation, and instant gratification.

The continuing shift requires a mindset change in more ways than one, as agencies need to move from simply connecting brands with the Facebooks and Googles of the world while charging a percentage of the media buy, to delivering actual results and charging only for results obtained.

There will also be a need to shift buying data on behalf of clients, to owning data, being data driven, and knowing how to use data-driven marketing to make it work for clients.

As media buying changes from buying into specific media, to programmatic and automated ad buying through platforms, agencies need to help clients build and enable platforms that will help them navigate through this rapidly transforming landscape.

In essence, the shift goes from being a simple middle man to a partner who can meet the client’s needs in a changing world – even if that means killing the ad man in the process.


The ADA Difference

ADA stands out from the followers and doers by being an agency partner who is able to help brands in digital marketing, data science, consumer and business insights, and advertising data analytics.

By evolving, adapting, and building programmes to meet new demands in marketing strategy, thought leadership, and customer behavior, we have not killed the ad man (yet) but rather, have re-programmed the way the ad man thinks, behaves, and reacts.


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Anurag Gupta

Chief of Agency

Anurag Gupta, COO of ADA

Anurag Gupta

With more than 25 years of experience in building integrated regional and global teams, managing agencies and large and global clients, Anurag is a marketing solutions champion, extremely skilled in building deep client relationships and unlocking new growth opportunities. Throughout his decorated journey, he has been in leadership roles across some of the best integrated communication agencies, such as Wunderman, WPP Team P&G, DDB, Geometry India, and Draft Worldwide East Africa, where he managed blue chip clients across industry sectors.

He is currently the COO of ADA, leading ADA’s country teams in major markets and regional marketing and ecommerce solutions teams based in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. He is responsible for rapidly expanding the company’s portfolio in Asia with over 1,200+ brands in total.

More than 300 international, regional, and local awards have been credited to his work.

He is passionate about Bollywood and cooking and serving authentic Indian food

He mixes his passion for Bollywood and cooking to serve up explosive unique Indian flavors.