Ad Factories

I'm going to nail my colours to the mast here:
I don't think that advertising is something that benefits from being mass produced.

Yet the vast majority of the advertising we see is produced in vast ad factories. Factories housing hundreds of people, a production line of human machines each adding a part to the product. It's efficient. But it isn't the best way to get the best advertising.

Advertising is conceived and made by people. And talented people tend to make better advertising.
But there aren't enough talented people to produce all of the advertising that needs to be produced.
There aren't enough talented people to keep the factories' production lines moving. So the factories make out that it isn't the people that make the advertising great.

No. It's the process. The production line. So the ad factories claim to clients is that their particular production line will ensure the best advertising. Some clients fall for it. They buy the production line. They buy the schematic. They buy the chart.

But a schematic doesn't come up with an idea. A schematic doesn't know the difference between a great edit and a cheesy one. A schematic can't come up with an image that blows peoples' minds. A schematic doesn't know how to arrange words into moving, persuasive sentences.

These ad factories have become the norm. They have been very successful in selling the production line to clients. Ad factories are poor at making advertising. But they are good at selling ad factories. And let's be fair, it's an easy buy for a lot of clients. You can see how it might be scary for some people to buy into the uncertainty of people. That's a scary thought: I have to put my budget, and success, into the hands of people? And hope that they're talented and smart enough to make it great? It's much easier to buy into the certainty of a process. A goes into B, B into C. Output D.

So ad factories have become successful at attracting clients. And they make up the vast majority of the advertising industry. Agencies, rated by size, by billings. 'The top 30 agencies' say the lists, the articles. Top 30, always by size. By the size of billings. Even though 99% of the advertising that fills those billings is, frankly, pedestrian. As if size is the best arbiter of what makes an agency.

And one of the real shames of all of this, is that many talented people set out to make their own agencies, to get out of the factories. They set-up a small boutique, a small workshop of talented people. They make great advertising. They craft it, they skilfully, artfully create advertising worth paying attention to. But then they allow themselves to grow into another factory. Or be absorbed by one. Another ad factory, churning out a production line of pedestrian work.

And that, unfortunately, is the work that makes up 99% of what we are subjected to as customers, as punters, as people, every day. Mass produced, low quality product, from vast factories.


  1. Sell!Sell!'s Project Manager4 October 2013 at 12:50

    Talented people make great Advertising.

    A good process helps those talented people make more great Advertising, and more profitably.

    Just saying.

  2. But they (the biggies) used to make great ads, didn't they? CDP, Saatchis, DDB, BMP... etc. Some of my fav ads came out of large agencies of yesteryear.


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