Ogilvy’s Michael Tidmarsh: Creative agency models are changing to accommodate growing use of tech

Agencies are shifting from traditional AOR relationships with a substantial retainer to 'much more project work, much more bespoke work.'

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Advertising agencies have evolved quite a bit since the turn of the century, mostly due to the exponential growth of data and technology in marketing.

But how have agencies changed as a result of technology?

In an interview this week, Michael Tidmarsh, chief technical officer for Ogilvy Worldwide, shared his thoughts about how agencies have changed to accommodate data-driven strategies. Tidmarsh will also keynote a talk on creativity in a data-driven world at our MarTech® Conference in Boston in early October.

Tidmarsh said that when he started at Ogilvy in 2003, “… digital was the new, emerging discipline, but it was still a fringe player. It had a lot of promise in the early days, but it seemed to get relegated to banners, and nothing particularly exciting.”

He said that the pace at which digital has moved from the fringe to a mainstream conversation has been surprising.

So you’ve got this landscape where the possibilities of what we can do with tech and data has suddenly shifted. And I think that things like mobile smart phones have paved the way for this, but you’ve suddenly gone from the possibilities of Star Trek-like technology into a world where [that tech is] in your hands every day. [Consumers have] a brand new set of baseline expectations that everything [in tech] is going to be fantastic and more connected than the device that [they] bought before.

In order to keep up the pace, Tidmarsh said, agencies have shifted their models from being traditional AORs (agencies of record) with a substantial retainer to “much more project work, much more bespoke work.”

Asked if the technological concerns in a project ever take over the creative direction, he said that he’s seen tech apply some controls to the creative process:

One example is a piece of work we did a couple of years ago for British Airways, where the creative was an electronic billboard in the center of London that had an animated film of a child on it. When a British Airways plane flew overhead, the child pointed to the sky at the plane and the billboard said something like, “There goes BA 219, just coming home from Spain.”

There’s tech in there and there’s an idea. The technology constrained what that creative would be and you have the creative and the tech very much going hand in hand. Without the tech working, the idea wouldn’t come to life, and likewise, there were constraints on just how far the idea could go.

Is there a danger that tech will completely take over the creative? Tidmarsh doesn’t think so:

We’re nowhere near this right now, but it’s conceivable of a time where machines will know more about us than we do, and at that point, what happens next? If you apply creative on top of that, you end up with us essentially acting like puppets, responding like Pavlov’s dogs to whatever signal we’re getting from the messaging that comes through.

Tidmarsh said that he believes that people-powered insight and ideas will withstand the tech explosion.

“Great human ideas are here to stay,” Tidmarsh said. “Then no matter what happens with automation, no matter what happens with data insight, I don’t think we’ll ever get to a place where the efficacy of a very human sense of an idea that’s created by people, not by machines, won’t have a place to play.”

If you’re interested in learning more from Tidmarsh and other experts in the field, be sure to attend our MarTech conference in Boston October 1-3, 2018.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Robin Kurzer
Robin Kurzer started her career as a daily newspaper reporter in Milford, Connecticut. She then made her mark on the advertising and marketing world in Chicago at agencies such as Tribal DDB and Razorfish, creating award-winning work for many major brands. For the past seven years, she’s worked as a freelance writer and communications professional across a variety of business sectors.

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