The way of the dinosaurs . . .
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the global advertising industry is in much the situation that prevailed when mastodon was bellowing merrily to mastodon across the primeval swamp, unaware of the imminent arrival of the meteorite that was to wipe out the big fellas completely.
The departure of Sir Martin Sorrell after more than 30 years at the helm of WPP marks the removal from the swamp of one of the mightiest diplodocuses of the recent era, softened somewhat by the cheeky £200m in total compensation he has received in the past five years.
This is despite a performance by the company that has been pedestrian at best. The current share price is double the high it hit in 1987 — an effort that only the most blinkered of fans would suggest merits the ringing of church bells and the drafting of giant cheques in gratitude.
WPP’S empire owes more to the era of Don Draper than that of Mark Zuckerberg, boasting about 200,000 staff in 400 separate businesses in 112 countries. It has taken a pounding on news that giants such as Procter & Gamble are slashing their budgets, cutting out middlemen and getting closer to the end consumer.
The old-school model of running huge campaigns, piling out ads across print and TV in the vague hope that somebody will see them and buy a product, looks completely nuts in an era in which the peddlers of big data can provide a sniper’s-eye view of a consumer’s likely predilections and then dish up ads appropriately. The behemoths will have to adapt before they’re eaten by digital natives.