Hm. Other than myself in self-deprecatory moments, no one has ever called me dumb, Jack, but I'm struggling to get your point here. "Big agencies aren't necessarily dumb?" (Or bad?)
Sure, a lot of folks rag on the big players -- it's easy to target them, they're big. What's going on today is not really an attack on 'big is bad,' but rather on 'big has tons of momentum,' and like an oil tanker, that makes big tough to turn around. I regularly refer to them as the 'dinosaurs' in part because they are big, but more so because they seem incapable of change during what now amounts to a 'marketing ice age'. By the latter I don't mean merely that spending on media has cooled, but rather that, regardless of the economy, the Internet has given the consumer a voice and what they're saying (they actually always said the same thing, but we could drown them out) is that they don't want any more 'push marketing'.
All the recent hoopla about 'social marketing' is nothing more than rabid excitement about experimentation with something new and therefore mysterious. 'Social' communication, regardless of the technological 'channel,' is merely 'word-of-mouth', and getting consumers to talk about brands amongst themselves is what our industry has ALWAYS done (hence the power behind a 'testimonial'). Just as there is really no such thing as word-of-mouth advertising efforts with integrity (note the last two words), there is also no such thing as 'social marketing,' unless you are a big proponent of telemarketing as a brand-building tactic.
But I, too, digress. Even the biggest agencies are now trying to inject 'social' efforts into their plans, so it is not really about whether or not the big players are actually nimble enough to begin adapting to 'emerging media.' To your point, there's plenty of imagination, commitment to 'the work,' branding experience, smarts and strategic thinking at the dinosaur agencies. The reason that the clever people today are saying 'big is bad' is that 'big is moribund.' These agencies are trapped by shareholder demands for profit -- they cannot abandon a commission on media spend model that paid out handsome dividends for almost 80 years, yet the world is moving on without them, adopting newer, better models.
There is, however, one thing that makes big good. Relationships and power. If a couple of the principle players, or the holding companies, can use their clout and connections to secure a new 'break-even retainer' model that is complimented by what should turn into a LARGE commission payout for sales increases over expectations, then big could not only be good, but big might actually be able to reinvent themselves:
- Not as 'advertising agencies,' but as 'marketing agencies.' (link)
- Agencies that don't hand over their creative IP to clients for an ever-shrinking margin, but license it. (link)
- Agencies that don't invent campaigns, but invent new business models for their clients' brands.
- Agencies that don't muddle along cranking out the same one-off 30 second 'mini-films' that get run ad infinitum on broadcast TV (link), but who produce an endlessly flexible and adaptable series of video in lengths from 3 seconds to 3 hours (use your imagination) that run on an ever-expanding and evolving 'emerging media mix.'
- Agencies that understand that 'push' died with the advent of 'The Death of Frequency,' but that 'pull' is NOT about 'social marketing,' it's about engagement -- and engagement is ALL about experiential marketing.