Mad Men meet the Math Men

Thursday 23 October 2014 by Drew Heatley

Mad men silhouette.

Whether it’s historically accurate or not, Mad Men is touted as a window to the halcyon days of advertising (for advertisers at least) – when brands and ad men could play hard and fast with the rules and really exercise their creative license, pumping out colourful messages that were lapped up blindly by audiences who didn’t know any better. Now, in an era of two-way conversations and collaborative engagement between brands and consumers, some cynics will argue that technology and data have made things far too scientific. The romance is dead.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But the TV show certainly evokes a misty-eyed view of the ad industry in the sixties (even from those who weren’t born). Now, with ubiquitous internet access and our obsession with mobile, the landscape is markedly different. Speaking at ad:tech London, Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of global ad giant WPP, acknowledges this himself.

“Don Draper wouldn’t recognise three-quarters of WPP’s business today.”

That’s because, Sorrell says, 75% of the firm’s annual profit comes from three main areas: media, data and digital. These are broadly-defined elements of WPP’s business, and while media planning and buying is not a million miles away from the goings on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on Madison Avenue half a century ago, data (via WPP’s consumer insights and market research divisions, among others) and digital are certainly a departure.

Blurred lines

Of course, the continuing advancement in technology is responsible for this shift in the industry. We spend our lives glued to screens now, searching for information on Google or chatting to friends on Facebook. But don’t be fooled, says Sorrell – these aren’t merely “technology companies”, they’re heavyweight media players.

Indeed, Google is the world’s largest media owner (and has been since 2013) thanks to its efforts in advertising, driven by its network DoubleClick. It snatched the top spot from News Corp, sparking obituaries for so-called “old media”. But, of course, the real narrative is not as simple as that (just five pure-play internet companies hold spaces in ZenithOptimedia’s annual ranking of media owners).

WPP is on track to spend $3bn with Google this year, with the search giant replacing 20th Century Fox and News Corp as the agency’s biggest media partner – though Sorrell tellingly describes Google as a “frenemy”.

The blurred lines between old and new media and technology and marketing are highlighted further as Sorrell recalls a recent pitch, when WPP – up against ten tech companies (“not our usual competitors”) – held court with the prospective client’s chief marketing officer (CMO) and its chief technology officer (CTO).

Many might think it’s the CMO that’s taking a crash course in technology. But in fact, it’s the CTO or chief information officer (CIO) who’s really learning on the job. CMOs have understood digital for some time and research from Gartner as far back as 2012 forecasts that marketing chiefs will spend more on technology than CIOs by 2017. Increasingly, the CTO and the CIO are being forced to put on their marketing hats. Companies are aware that the convergence of traditional and data/analytics-based marketing means the roles must continue to collaborate closely if they want to stay ahead.

Agencies aren’t blind to all these developments. Digital has long been a core thread at The Frameworks, and clients are now just as eager to have conversations with our developers and tech strategists as they are with our creative teams ahead of embarking on any campaigns. Features like granular analytics and heat-mapping are also prerequisites for many clients, so all parties across the agency must collaborate to ensure we keep delivering work that is creatively compelling and completely measurable.

The future

So, what will the ad industry look like in another ten years? For WPP, which Sorrell says is already “three quarters non-Don Draper”, and the wider ad industry, it will be even more analytics- and data-driven. As a result, the roles of CMO and CIO are likely to fuse completely, with one focused division handling a brand’s communications and advertising activity – and all of the technology that comes with it. Advancements like programmatic ad buying and analytics-led, measurable campaigns only benefit ad buyers, ad servers and ultimately the consumer.

In the words of Sorrell: it’s time for the Mad Men to embrace the Math Men.

Drew no longer works at The Frameworks


  • Payment
  • CIO
  • WPP
  • Advertising
  • CMO