What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

The fundamental digital disruption to the ad world has barely begun

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The Independent Online

In terms of celebrity speakers, sponsors and general buzz, the European incarnation of Advertising Week – hosted in London last week – was a landmark success. Perhaps the most telling criticism however, came from Sir Martin Sorrell. He jokingly suggested that it should be rebranded as “Paranoia Week”, bearing in mind the rate of change in the marketing world. He has a point.

Sir Martin’s firm, WPP, has a turnover of roughly $20bn (£13bn), but classic “advertising” is less and less important. With $5bn of those revenues coming from media management, $6bn from data and $5bn from research, more than three quarters of the firm is not creative advertising. Asked to describe WPP, the world’s most powerful “ad man” (he started out at Saatchi & Saatchi) prefers to call it a “communications services business”.

He is not the only person in this world to see a dangerous complacency among the advertising fraternity; a glance at WPP’s figures provides a warning of things to come. Of the $75bn global billings that annually go through its media arm, $3bn is now spent on Google alone.

At another session, Mark Howe, Google’s agency sales boss for Europe, pointed out that online video was building up an “unprecedented head of steam”. Vloggers such as Zoella can now number 8m subscribers, while multichannel networks such as Vevo boast around 228m users. All this suggests that the fundamental digital disruption to the ad world, and the demographic shift of young people preferring mobile devices and content on demand, has barely even begun.

Even Sir Martin argues that “creativity” – the buzzword of advertising for decades – can be increasingly found through data visualisation or collaborative content plays. His fellow Mad Men should be equally paranoid.

Danny Rogers is the group editor-in-chief of Brand Republic Group