Creative Focus: Why isn't the ad industry better at selling itself?

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 10 May 2016
“Seagulls circling for crumbs” is how Scott Whybin sees the ad industry.

This article first appeared in AdNews in-print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or read the iPad edition here.

Earlier this month industry veteran and AdNews Hall of fame–er Scott Whybin stepped down from the agency that bears his name.

He said part of the move is his disillusionment with the state of the industry, calling modern advertising “seagulls circling for crumbs”. And Whybin wants to change the way intellectual property (IP) is perceived and valued.

“Respect for IP and value has gone out the window but it can change businesses,” he said.

Times have changed for agencies – never has the market been more competitive, the margins tighter and the performance metrics more stringent. And while there is no doubt about the informative power of the right idea when it comes to changing a business for the better, is it a case of advertising needing to take its own medicine? As always, we asked the experts; has the industry lost its way when it comes to valuing IP?

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About David:

David loves the power of great ideas and believes that creativity is a force for good. He has been an integral member of the GPY&R family for eight years.

I 100% agree. We’ve lost respect for the work. The issue is the way agencies are setting up client contracts. Creative work, our planning tools, our processes, our IP are all given away as added value in the attempt to lure the client in or undercut the agency down the road instead of treating the product as the thing that ultimately sets us apart. It is, after all, what the public sees.

The question is, at what point does our IP become the client’s? The first time it is presented? When it gets made? None of this is clearly defined and it causes issues. It creates scenarios where one client won’t buy the work, but then you can’t present it to another because they feel it is theirs. Surely it’s ours?

Perhaps we should set up a base usage rate for our IP. A starting point would be negotiating use of the work over and above any media, territory and importantly, time period. Similar to how photographers charge for usage rights on the images they take.

While we are a competitive industry and should remain so, there must be a way we can all benefit. Agency and client alike.

Maybe there is an opportunity for us to come together in the common interest of our industry and set up a marketing/communications industry code of conduct, based on behaviours, on which we should all comply.

Without this, the battle of ownership will continue based on opinion and ‘he said, she said’ scenarios.

Just a thought.

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About Hugh:

Hugh has devised brand, digital and communications strategies for Telstra, Absolut, Origin Energy, Nestlé, Aldi and Cure Brain Cancer. His work has been awarded Effies, AIMIAs and ADMAs.

There’s a lot of ways to interpret “respect for IP,” but we’ll take it on face value. Our industry has a fraught relationship with intellectual property.

On one hand, we’re in the business of building IP by making our clients’ trademarks and patents more valuable. And you only have to look at the value of intangible assets on a corporation’s balance sheet to realise that we can be very effective at building value in IP over the long run.

What’s more, the things we produce look a lot like the kind of things that are protected by copyright law. Art, music and film need protection because they’re inexhaustible and easily replicable goods – much like an ad. They deserve protection because they benefit society – whether the same can be said for ads is a debate for another time.

And this protection is limited – in time and in scope – because there’s also a social benefit in allowing people to steal and build on each other’s ideas.

But there’s one important difference. Intellectual property law exists to ensure there’s enough incentive for people to bother creating new inventions or artistic works. If filmmakers can’t own their film they can’t sell it and they wouldn’t have taken on the expense and effort to create it in the first place. Try applying the same logic to advertising: if advertising wasn’t protected by IP, would society still reap the benefit of ads? Or would we live in a hellish ad-less dystopia?

If you believe the latter, we should be worried about protecting our IP. Otherwise, let’s focus on building value in our clients’ intellectual property. Because without their products and services to carry that IP, there’s not much point having the IP in the first place.

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About Annie:

Annie has over 25 years in the business and is currently looking after the creative interests of Jetstar, Harris Scarfe, Chemmart and more.

For me, intellectual property within agencies has become more devalued as technology has become more advanced. So much of what we used to do was painstakingly handcrafted and took time, making it somewhat of a beautiful mystery to clients.

Nowadays, more of our work is needed instantly, made instantly, judged instantly and often changed instantly. This means that what we do, whether it’s art, copy or design, can feel a bit like fast food. And the IP associated with making work is often not given its due respect.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to bring ideas to life every day that would have been cost and/ or time prohibitive previously is liberating. And the reality is there’s as much craft and skill that goes into conceiving and making our work than there’s ever been.

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About Jon:

Jon’s work for OPSM ‘Penny the Pirate’, from his time at Saatchi & Saatchi, picked up a haul of awards and was named as the world’s most effective marketing campaign, scoring the number one spot in Warc’s Top 100, 2016.

The image of “seagulls circling for crumbs” is striking, but Scott’s at risk of missing his own point. I agree with him that feeding time is over for the big ol’ scavengers, but I also think discerning businesses still have a lot of work – tasty morsels for rare birds, to adapt Scott’s metaphor – and a lot of respect for agencies with a roster of high calibre staff.

Scott’s rebranded ‘marketing-based business evolution’ is just advertising done as it should be. Great agencies offer the client great service without surrendering their own integrity or treating their audience like idiots.

My team will obsess over your brand anddeliver content over and above the daily grind of a 9-5 mind. I can’t help myself and it drives my wife mad, but I believe in what I’m doing, and I’ll go out of my way to make my work, work.

So delivering value is about quality and passion. This value comes at a cost, but we can measure our impact in increasingly sophisticated ways so clients should have no qualms about paying the right money for a result that drives their business forward.

I don’t expect to turn up for work in a Maserati – and I think a little bit of restriction can make for a more imaginative outcome – but I do believe in having enough financial breathing room that I can focus on the agency’s collective talent, instead of worrying about the electricity bill.

The world is moving towards artisan foods and homewares, maybe I’m saying we should be thinking in terms of artisanal advertising as well.

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