Will design destroy advertising?

A while back I made a prediction among friends that design would evolve to include marketing communications. And now, 320 days later, I’m feeling even more confident. Mix equal parts design, advertising and marketing, and you’re looking squarely at the future of our industry.

I shoved that idea into my back pocket and forgot about until recently, when I caught an episode of AMC’s reality show The Pitch. The basic premise: two ad agencies go head to head, vying for the same big account. Every once in awhile it’s a David versus Goliath type story, but usually it’s a couple of decent size firms dueling to the death. Overall I’d say the show is 20% interesting, 75% bullsh*t, and 5% other. But that 20% got me thinking again about the general state of design, and our future as an industry.

In The Pitch, the agencies have a week or so to brainstorm their campaign ideas; they spend 5-15 minutes (grossly understated for dramatic effect) getting to know the product/brand/user, and they’re off. It’s kind of like a diet version of phase one in a typical design program. Which got me thinking about my prediction; as designers we know “the user” better than anyone else, we often define and then make the products/services that they need/want…why shouldn’t we sell it to them as well? After all, we’re hardly strangers to advertising; designers are often tasked with selling programs up the organizational chart using the very same tactics that ad agencies use to sell products/services to consumers: film/narrative/story telling/etc. The process is similar, and like the design process, it hasn’t changed much—as far as I can tell from Mad Men.

The Pitch reminded me of my idea, but it was an article about Michael Lipton in BusinessWeek that inspired it.  His firm, Breakfast, is a physical marketing technology business. That means they take big ideas, and make them real for consumers. It’s very much like traditional advertising/marketing in purpose and function, but very different in spirit and form. Sound familiar? Designers do it everyday, only on the frontend, versus the back. As our industry naturally moves toward providing end-to-end solutions, it’s fair to assume that the strategic frontend activity of defining and designing products and services will merge with the backend business of marketing products/services/brands to consumers.

Long story short: combine design as we know it today with advertising and physical marketing, and you get a pretty clear picture of what the future of design is going to look like. And it’s not a matter of IF, trust me, it’s a matter of WHEN. I for one am more than @#$%! excited to see who acquires their way into leading that category; I believe that firm will own the future. And to all the design firms out there—keep in mind if you’re not first, you’re last.

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