Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)

By | June 12, 2018

An intimate and profound reckoning with the changes buffeting the $2 trillion global advertising and marketing business from the perspective of its most powerful players, by the bestselling author of Googled

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Advertising and marketing touches on every corner of our lives, and is the invisible fuel powering almost all media. Complain about it though we might, without it the world would be a darker place. And of all the industries wracked by change in the digital age, few have been turned on its head as dramatically as this one has. We are a long way from the days of Don Draper; as Mad Men is turned into Math Men (and women–though too few), as an instinctual art is transformed into a science, the old lions and their kingdoms are feeling real fear, however bravely they might roar.

Frenemies is Ken Auletta’s reckoning with an industry under existential assault. He enters the rooms of the ad world’s most important players, some of them business partners, some adversaries, many “frenemies,” a term whose ubiquitous use in this industry reveals the level of anxiety, as former allies become competitors, and accusations of kickbacks and corruption swirl. We meet the old guard, including Sir Martin Sorrell, the legendary head of WPP, the world’s largest ad agency holding company; while others play nice with Facebook and Google, he rants, some say Lear-like, out on the heath. There is Irwin Gotlieb, maestro of the media agency GroupM, the most powerful media agency, but like all media agencies it is staring into the headlights as ad buying is more and more done by machine in the age of Oracle and IBM. We see the world from the vantage of its new powers, like Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s head of Sales, and other brash and scrappy creatives who are driving change, as millennials and others who disdain ads as an interruption employ technology to zap them. We also peer into the future, looking at what is replacing traditional advertising. And throughout we follow the industry’s peerless matchmaker, Michael Kassan, whose company, MediaLink, connects all these players together, serving as the industry’s foremost power broker, a position which feasts on times of fear and change.

Frenemies is essential reading, not simply because of what it says about this world, but because of the potential consequences: the survival of media as we know it depends on the money generated by advertising and marketing–revenue that is in peril in the face of technological changes and the fraying trust between the industry’s key players.An Amazon Best Book of June 2018: With a trillion dollars of business at stake, the question of what advertising will look like in the future is not a trivial one. The Mad Men days are gone forever, replaced in large part by quants and algorithms. The goal is to reach a new generation of consumers, one that is technologically literate and one that does not like being sold to—and the result today is lots of industry flux. To explore the current state of advertising, as well as its likely future, Auletta profiles a number of players in the arena, both old and new, and in doing so gives human faces, approaches, and opinions to a complex topic. According to Auletta, we encounter an average of 5,000 marketing messages daily. This number might even seem reasonable to you, given the world we live in, but in recent times almost all of the new business has gone to digital. The smartphone has changed how advertising works, and in doing so it has placed the power of choice literally in the hands of the consumer. Our relationship with our phones has only grown stronger over time; but the relationships on the other end are fraught and fragile and constantly shifting. –Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review An intimate and profound reckoning with the changes buffeting the $2 trillion global advertising and marketing business from the perspective of its most powerful players, by the bestselling author of Googled

Advertising and marketing touches on every corner of our lives, and is the invisible fuel powering almost all media. Complain about it though we might, without it the world would be a darker place. And of all the industries wracked by change in the digital age, few have been turned on its head as dramatically as this one has. We are a long way from the days of Don Draper; as Mad Men is turned into Math Men (and women–though too few), as an instinctual art is transformed into a science, the old lions and their kingdoms are feeling real fear, however bravely they might roar.

Frenemies is Ken Auletta’s reckoning with an industry under existential assault. He enters the rooms of the ad world’s most important players, some of them business partners, some adversaries, many “frenemies,” a term whose ubiquitous use in this industry reveals the level of anxiety, as former allies become competitors, and accusations of kickbacks and corruption swirl. We meet the old guard, including Sir Martin Sorrell, the legendary head of WPP, the world’s largest ad agency holding company; while others play nice with Facebook and Google, he rants, some say Lear-like, out on the heath. There is Irwin Gotlieb, maestro of the media agency GroupM, the most powerful media agency, but like all media agencies it is staring into the headlights as ad buying is more and more done by machine in the age of Oracle and IBM. We see the world from the vantage of its new powers, like Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s head of Sales, and other brash and scrappy creatives who are driving change, as millennials and others who disdain ads as an interruption employ technology to zap them. We also peer into the future, looking at what is replacing traditional advertising. And throughout we follow the industry’s peerless matchmaker, Michael Kassan, whose company, MediaLink, connects all these players together, serving as the industry’s foremost power broker, a position which feasts on times of fear and change.

Frenemies is essential reading, not simply because of what it says about this world, but because of the potential consequences: the survival of media as we know it depends on the money generated by advertising and marketing–revenue that is in peril in the face of technological changes and the fraying trust between the industry’s key players.

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1 Comment

Jean A. Klein on June 12, 2018 at 8:58 PM.

“Until somebody knows you’ve got the better mousetrap, there’s no point in building it

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