At one time we had below-the-line agencies, and those of us on the mainstream agencies rather looked down on those poor fellows doing mailing shots while we made glamorous TV commercials or put glossy full-page colour ads in the UK’s Sunday Times Magazine. As the years passed, a tightening in world economies made clients look more often at direct marketing and in-store promotions. The revolting (I use this word in its original meaning) media men decided they had been second-class citizens too long set up media planning & buying shops where they could keep the nice commissions leaving the creative agencies begging for fees. The big holding companies also shook up the industry and changed its profile. While agencies were still trying to adjust, along came a new technology and an amazing way to communicate with customers. It offered tantalising glimpse to clients of huge audiences at little cost. To serve them, up popped the digital specialists. The ad agencies didn’t understand the technology and nobody had a clue how to use it properly but they bought firms run by geeks so they could pretend their agency was on the ball. Some pulled the tech wizards inside to form in-house digital groups and others tried to sub-contact to third parties.

The old-timers dreamed of the media agencies coming back into the fold and a few agencies even set up internal media departments, just like the old days. A happy family under one roof again. They assumed digital media would settle down to become just another platform and take its place alongside TV broadcasters, radio stations, newspapers, magazines and billboards.

But for marketers, advertisers, agencies and media owners, the reality is that the old world is dying and society is changing fast. We get a glimpse when we marvel at TV sets that can be controlled by hand signals; cars that park themselves and even drive you around without any need to steer; robots that can be trained in a few minutes to do the washing-up. All these are close to being marketed. Our refrigerator can now tell us which items we need to stock up on. It is a small step to have the fridge call, on its own initiative, to have the cheese or butter delivered. If you do still go to the supermarket in this new age, the shopping trolley will soon not only broadcast ad messages, it will warn you of the huge number of calories in that tub of ice cream you just dropped in! We can already pay at the check-out using our smart phone, so cash will start to disappear. We have a generation growing up that get all the news online and never reads a newspaper, a development which frightens publishers. In the street, there will soon be out-of-home ad panels that can talk to me personally because it actually knows, via my smart phone, that it is Allein that is passing by and not the old lady a few steps behind. We already have 3D printers that can create solid items in a few hours. How long before we choose a set of wine glasses from a photo, scan it and have the home-based 3D printer create a set of six, in time for our dinner party later that evening. Our home computer, which can be a television or cinema screen if we choose, can already bring us all the information we need to plan and book a holiday. Maybe, in the future we will not even need to go to the destination chosen but can experience from our chair with a special cap on our heads as in the Schwarzenegger movie “Total Recall”.

In World War 1, the European armies sent in cavalry with riders armed with swords to face the newly-invented tanks with predictable results. If you go into battle for the market still attached to the traditional strategies, you will face similar consequences.

The writing is on the wall. Or should I say in the wireless waves.

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