Dancing in the Dark – Social as by Ad Agencies

Over the last few years there has been a definite pivot from the traditional above-the-line ad agencies towards servicing social media.


Well, it’s certainly not for the prestige or the brou-ha-ha. After all social is the ugly sister of media (displacing radio for last place in the glamor stakes). The majority of social is a badly written tweet or an agency staff member pretending to be talent.

Insta Copy Example: You feel good on a Monday? Go and get some cheerios! #gogetsomecheeriositsMonday

As an aside if anyone client-side thinks that this translates to increased sales they are living in a Pleasantville. Either that or they’re 22. Sometimes it’s both.

So, if social doesn’t allow agencies to do great work (real-time response advertising look slapped together due to their very nature) then why are the multi-nationals suddenly anointing themselves with the social media stick?


My theory is two-fold.

But before we get there I want to just quickly summarize why I believe social is just so important with clients these days.

Once viewed as a gimmick, in recent years social is a way for clients to create a direct line of comms with consumers. And (arguably) it’s free. Well, it’s not really. That sponsored tweet you may have seen may well have had $20,000 sponsored post money pumped into it. $20,000 you say? For this crummy tweet I scroll past? The same crummy tweet that has 12 likes including 8 from ass-lickers that work in the client’s company? Yes, that very same crummy tweet. But the costs get massaged out so to all intensive purposes it’s free media.

Free media?!

Sign me up!

So that’s one thing.

Another thing why social is heralded by clients (We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy) is because it’s measured thereby displacing direct mail from those micro-marketers that believe the only sort of good marketing is marketing that comes with 101 charts of results. Well with the social you get all the charts you can cram into your 100-page PowerPoint presentation. They are made right there and then. You don’t have to do anything. Just drag, drop and send around.

This makes any marketer look good.

And you know what, a lot of the social metrics are designed to make any marketer look good.

Your social campaign generated 3 million WEF impressions.


Surely that’s 3-million people?


It sounds like it. Let’s go with it.

Not even close… a successful social campaign can generate over a billion impressions. And don’t for a minute think that a billion people saw your 5 second Insta-vid of a rapping squid holding a cheeseburger.

The other reason why social is king is that is flies under the radar. In this day and age a broadcast ad is mercilessly changed, amended, and nawed away 100 times over up and down the marketing line before it gets to the CMO. If indeed it even gets to the CMO at all. More often than not deadlines pass and projects are shelved before a decision is made at all. Social on the other hand is extremely low hanging fruit so to a marketer trying to cut a name for him/herself, social affords them the ability to shine and get much-needed merit.

So, social is a medium that (more than most) can help elevate a marketer’s position inside an agency.

Well, that’s the background, now onto my theories why agencies are chasing that bastard-child we call “social”:


One: Social is the unguarded flank of any account.

In recent years social has left many an ad agency exposed. Why?

Well PR has been up to speed with social for years, so has media agencies (now rebranding and calling themselves “content hubs”). Social has been adopted and used for years by pretty much anyone outside of ad agencies… and that hurts come time of a re-pitch. A lack of social (along with a lack of data analytics) in my opinion is the main reason why ad agencies are losing accounts.

I’ve seen it many times where a small underdog grabs the social off an ATL agency, only to come back and be asked to pitch for the whole business. And that’s daunting to even the most solid of traditional agencies.


Two: It pays.

Ad agencies are no longer the pleasure-domes of the 80s. Gone are the fast cars, enormous salaries, and glamor. Instead, the ad agencies of 2018 are a very different beast. Long hours, average pay, little work produced – and a lack of up-and-coming talent willing to buy into an industry that looks like all cons and very little pros.

Into this situation we have ever-decreasing budgets (that $1 mill spot we did last year, we have $500,000 this year – make it work) and an imperative from the holding companies to make a profit at all costs, which end up sacrificing agency culture.

Let’s face it, it’s dark times for any traditional ad agency so hearing that servicing a social account will pay 7 figures is music to any new biz lead’s ears.





excellent piece, jonathan. now please explain why bruce and courtney cox are dancing in the dark.

posted by josh / 02.05.18 - 4:52 pm

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