Will OmniPubliComcis be the Death of Creativity?

Sausage. It’s delicious in a sandwich, but it’s not really the word you’d want to use to describe the creative work coming out of an agency.

Everyone’s talking about what impact the $35.1 Omnicom/Publicis merger will have on digital platforms, data, programmatic ad buys, analytics—that whole shebang. But what about the work? Creativity needs room to breathe, and the massiveness of what I think of as OmniPubliComcis will surely stifle, at least in part, the impulse to be courageously creative out of fear—the fear of losing your job, of taking a risk, of going with your gut.

“Creatives will start to play it safe, and there will be less that’s innovative, or breakthrough, or fun, because they’re afraid of the worst,” says Flora Caputo, VP and executive creative director at Jacobs Agency in Chicago, telling it like it is. “Of all the creativity killers out there, and there are a lot of them, fear is the biggest one—fear will squash good ideas before they even get developed.”

Arguably, the net result of a situation like that is the ultimate “blandification” of all work until courageousness in marketing is just something crazy people do if they want to get canned.

“I know they’re probably doing this whole merger for monetary reasons, but it’s going to add so much more bureaucracy and, actually, I think it’s really sad,” says Caputo. “There will be layers and layers that creatives will have to go through now to get good ideas approved—or even just to get their ideas in front of clients.”

When we’re talking about a world in which Coke and Pepsi could share the same ad agency, something is certainly awry. Caputo put it more succinctly: “It’s laughable.”

Things could also get a bit wonky on the client side. For example, Caputo recently had lunch with a friend who lost his job at an activation agency because of a redundancy that came about after a merger. While he was still there, the agency won business from a client that had fired its previous agency. Post-merger, the client ended up back where it started, working with the original agency it had fired.

Sean Boyle, formerly head of global strategy at Publicis Dallas, put it rather well in a recent interview—and this was more than two months before the Omnicom/Publicis announcement: “Advertising has become a big business with five or six holding companies globally that are basically money-making operations focused exclusively on the bottom line, which is expected. That means the sausage factory is producing slightly less consequential content because corners are being cut.”

Whether Omnicom and Publicis mean to or not, their sheer combined ginormity can’t help but dampen the independent creative spirit, just a smidge. And the creative spirit is exactly what Caputo likes about her small agency, where, she says, “we’re not beholden to anyone except the client, and that’s a good thing.”

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