The Economist recently weighed in on the state of the advertising industry. More specifically, the multinational advertising giant part of the industry. Curiously, Sir Martin Sorrell is quoted in overly-optimistic tones, and two weeks later, he quickly and quietly disappeared.

All Economist articles are very well researched, with issues and context explained in surprising simple terms. So all the key trends our industry has been talking about for the last few years are there, some of which have been covered in this blog:

  • the domination of Google and Facebook
  • technological disruption and disintermediation, both at the (giant) agency and (giant) client level
  • ad budgets shifting in-house and to management consultants
  • the rise of ad-free content providers and online ad-blocking technology (especially on mobile devices, for the latter)

What caught my eye was a quote at the very end, and very much in the tone of Sir Martin, attributed to Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer for Publicis:

“Everybody says that we’re dinosaurs but we’re not. We’re cockroaches. We know how to scurry around, we hide out in the corner, we figure out where the food is, we reconstitute ourselves.”

This is a brilliantly emotive, and therefore, memorable quote, just like brilliant marketing communications. But it’s based on a faulty analogy (or strategy), like most poor-to-mediocre marketing communications are.

Here’s the inconvenient scientific backstory:

Cockroaches actually predate the dinosaurs, but for the last 200M years, they haven’t really evolved at all. They are relatively simple organisms that were incredibly lucky in early evolutionary development. Some consider them the dominant Earth species before the dinosaur [2].

Dinosaurs appeared about 240M years ago and ruled the Earth until a catastrophic event befell them 66M years ago. Feathered dinosaurs managed to evolve into the birds that currently inhabit the planet.

So I want to be a dinosaur, because a group of them managed to survive catastrophic change and are still evolving today, soaring the skies, running the earth and swimming the seas. Not waiting under a rock for Armageddon, so they can crawl out from their hiding places and take whatever might be left.

Notes and references:

  1. Mad Men Adrift/Technology has upended the world’s advertising giants”, The Economist (print edition), March 28, 2018.
  2. Cockroaches are, by pure evolutionary coincidence, much less susceptible to radioactivity than humans, but not immune to it.
  3. Feathered dinosaur in feature image (top) is recently-discovered Yutyrannus, an artist’s impression by Dr Brian Choo. Learn more here.