The Agency Disintermediation Risk

This piece originally appeared in Digiday.


I agree with Jack Marshall that it’s an uphill battle of Sisyphusian proportions for an agency to get in the product development business. If this notion, as commenter Matt Straz, CEO of Namely, suggests, is marked by “a record unblemished by success,” then perhaps agencies need to look in the other direction with concern. After all, their core business as brand stewards is at risk.

It’s far more likely that brands will find success dipping their toes into the world of marketing. Market forces have made it easier, and cultural forces have made it desirable, for brands to engage consumers in different ways, either directly or in ways that can easily circumvent the traditional agency role. The signs have been there for a little while now.

When Moby’s 1999 album, “Play,” became the first to have all its songs licensed for use in films, TV and commercials, it signaled the start of a new era. Now, I don’t think of the Black Eyed Peas as a band so much as a marketing agency that makes music for brands to license. Sure, agencies still play a role, but as a brand that needs to make culturally relevant content, why not just do a deal with and Co. and let them be the creatives on the project? You see this trend already as brands look to the likes of Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Gwen Stefani to be their creative directors. At the same time, brands that we traditionally think of as distribution channels or platforms like Google and Facebook have their own internal creative teams that are equipped to help brands leverage their sites.

As more and more brands produce content and think of themselves as media companies, they’ll continue to hire people who know how to create content and how to effectively distribute it across and through channels on which consumers are spending time. How much agency involvement does a brand like Nike need to hire Casey Neistat to make a video and post it to Facebook and YouTube, for example? Probably not much, and this video has 6.8 million views and counting. Savvy brands also understand how to create products that are inherently social objects that require less heavy lifting from agencies to promote and that instead rely on the consumer to drive buzz through social channels.

Certainly these developments are just another reason that agencies are struggling to find their way right now and are willing to try things like product development. There’s no easy or right answer here, but my guess is that companies like Goodpenny and Deeplocal, hybrids that create content for brands but are right on the edge of products, are the agency evolutionary equivalent of the first mammal that dragged itself out of the water on fins that were more like flippers.

  • Chuck Kent

    Great notion – the Black-Eyed Peas as a marketing agency more than a band; I think the observation applies to much of popular culture, which thrives on artists who are creating consumable content more so than art per se (contributing to a richness in marketing at the expense of the culture at large, perhaps, but that’ s a different discussion). While I think that traditional agencies will continue to have a hard time transitioning into a content-oriented world, I think that brands will forever have quality/perspective problems using resources that are, or effectively become, in-house. Deeplocal and its new kind should make a ton of money (and who knows, perhaps also turn the tables and start making the art that artists have abandoned in favor of commerce.)

  • Pingback: Chuck Kent()

  • Pingback: iV()

  • Rick

    Thanks Chuck, I appreciate your input. The notion that artists are now creating content rather than art is really interesting and worth exploring further.

  • Pingback: Plannersphere20()