Lynne Robinson – A Response from the IPA to Wharton Future of Advertising Program 2020

Lynne Robinson, Research Director, IPA

What could/should “advertising” look like in 2020?

Looking from a consumer point of view, advertising will look pretty much the same as it does now since consumers regard all commercial messaging as advertising.

However, looking from an advertising industry point of view there will be several key changes:

  • The media environment will be significantly more complex, diverse and dynamic than it is today – creative ideas will need to transcend the media which is available.
  • With increasing levels of technology, advertising opportunities will be more personalised and less mass.
  • Consumers will become ever more empowered to see through the claims being made by advertising.
  • To cut-through, advertising will need to maintain a high quality threshold.

Looking specifically at agencies:

  • Ideas will remain at the heart of agencies and will differentiate them from other professional advisors but the growing data rich environment will require individuals with a broader multi-disciplinary skill set and experience of new specialisms.
  • Agencies will be more diverse not only in terms of output but also in terms of geographical and multi-cultural reach.
  • “Creative” agencies will look very much the same as they do now , with a need for client service, creative teams and backroom staff but with business management moving further up the agenda and better client budget management there will be better returns for agencies. Agencies will also have to make a significant investment in technology, in both systems and people (see later).
  • Marketing may regain power within client organisations which will have a direct bearing on the future success of agencies.

What do we need to do now for this future?

In order to meet this future, the industry, particularly advertising agencies, face three key challenges:

A. Talent

  • Agencies need to ensure that they recruit from a diverse background across a wider range of ages, experiences, ethnicities and backgrounds to ensure that the communication created is based on a real understanding of the target audience.
  • The industry also needs to continue to source the best talent, but it now needs to work much harder in retaining them.  So investment in people is critical to managing uncertain times ahead.
  • Agencies need to recruit more technological staff to meet the demands of a digital future by hiring talented creative people with programming, tech craft skills and/or understanding of technology and data.
  • The industry needs to continue training our solution-neutral practitioners of the future.
  • Internal agency structures need to change to meet the demands of the future. Creative teams should involve strategists, makers, technologists and even clients, not just a writer and art director.

B. Embracing change

  • Agencies need to understand how the landscape is changing ensure that their business is constructed in a nimble enough fashion to facilitate change to support that future.
  • Agencies need to be preparing new tools to personalise communications and increase sophistication of measurement tools for brand communications.
  • Agencies need to become more agile and recognise that each client or future advertising challenge is different and so end proprietary ways of working.
  • Agencies should not be afraid to forge partnerships with external but increasingly vital talent, from Hollywood to the City, from Google to Maker Faire’s.
  • The role of strategy will become central to identifying opportunity, creating structure and process, and driving momentum.

C. Developing new business models

  • Agencies need to understand how the landscape is changing to ensure that their business are constructed in a nimble enough fashion to facilitate change to support that future.
  • Agencies need to be preparing new tools to personalise communications and increase sophistication of measurement tools for brand  communications.
  • Agencies need to understand what are the marketing activities that clients value but they lack the internal resources to do for themselves.
  • Agencies will need to take a hard-headed view about what is profitable and what is not, while it will become viable for agencies to offer entirely new services and products which take advantage of new technologies.
  • Agencies need to join the war against excessively mechanistic attitudes in business. The shareholder value movement, quarterly reporting and the obsession with short-term financial metrics ‘at the expense of everything else’ – have been deeply hostile to brands and the trust people feel for business.
  • Agencies need to think more radically about the business model – breaking the hegemony of the monthly fee, challenging the structure of the creative department, bringing radically different talent into agencies, getting more serious about communication effectiveness and developing better models of how communication actually works.


Lynne Robinson
Research Director
0207 235 7020