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Rethinking the Profession Formerly Known as Advertising: How Data Science Is Disrupting the Work of Agencies

Editor’s Note: “Speaker’s Box” in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) invites academics and practitioners to identify potential areas of research affecting marketing and advertising. Its intention is to bridge the gap between the length of time it takes to produce rigorous work and the acceleration of change within practice. With this contribution, John Deighton shows how data technology sits within its industry. He depicts this industry as a supply chain and shows how a small number of firms have defied the chain metaphor to integrate all the way from data source to data application.

These integrators, he argues, are titans in a battle to create the dominant design for a platform on which all marketing will be practiced. But, he asks, who will do the work of marketing? Will it be done by an evolved version of the advertising agency; will it be institutionalized into the culture of data science; or will it not be professionalized at all, but rather defer to one or more standard-setting industrialists, perhaps Google or Amazon? Here are a few excerpts from this article:

There is nothing new about the claim that advertising is not what it used to be. In 2012, the annual report of WPP noted, “We are applying more and more technology to our business, along with big data. We are now Math Men as well as Mad Men (and Women). Thus, we go head-to-head not only with advertising and market research groups such as Omnicom, IPG, Publicis, Dentsu, Havas, Nielsen, Ipsos, and GfK, but also new technology companies—such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Amazon—and then with technology consulting companies such as Infosys, Wipro, Accenture and Deloitte.”

At a minimum, it must be clear that a profession that changed hardly at all in the 70-odd years since the commercialization of television is not recognizably that profession any longer. By all that defines a profession—skills, assets, clients, and heritage—it is time to declare a new regime.

When a new technology is born, nothing is more certain than that it will be deployed, whether for good or for evil, and data science will not be an exception. We will receive its benefits, and we will learn to live in and around its costs. But what role will the institutions and people of the advertising profession play in the emerging practice of data-driven marketing communications and customer management?

Deighton, J. (2017, December 1). Rethinking the Profession Formerly Known as Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research.