When I was a kid, I used to read something called the "Blue Paper." It was a publication with a ton of classified ads, all categorized into every possible subject you could think of.
I loved it. But I always wondered whether everything appeared in the paper. To a small boy, the ads represented a world of choice. But what if the Blue Paper really opened up a global marketplace?
Well, we now know what the future held—to this point in history anyway.
Years later eBay appeared—in a shape and format not many could have imagined. Of course, anyone who could have imagined such a revolution is likely to be enjoying a happy retirement by now.
Now imagine the same for great ideas. For decades, advertising agencies have had a monopoly on building great ideas. As I recall, the former CEO of BBDO worldwide once told me, "Our stock is people. Every day the elevator goes up, our stock is full of staff—of ideas-generating people. Every evening our stock is depleted when people leave the building."
Ideas have defined some agencies as great, and others as average, particularly these days, when desktop-publishing and other tools have almost enabled the most amateurish person to imitate a million-dollar designer. We're all equipped with a TV studio in our own homes. If we're online, we could all literally produce and distribute our own Web sites and promotions in minutes—worldwide.
So, how would the world look if all those ideas, pent up in millions of online personalities, were let free? What if, almost like eBay, anyone with great ideas could sell them to anyone who needed them?
Once again, the future is already here.
Based in Moscow, an Italian entrepreneur has founded a Web site called BootB. From the Russian capital, BootB has launched a platform that acts as an online marketplace to bring creators and buyers together. It gives corporations the chance to share creative briefs with anyone in the world—in seconds.
I'm sure that a lot of bored art directors may pick up the idea just to see what happens when an amateur creative person gives a brief an unspoiled go. It's almost like the American Idol concept—providing a platform for undiscovered talented. And I know about BootB because I am an adviser to the founder.
A quick look at the site reveals that brands such as LEGO, Disney, and Peugeot have already uploaded briefs. Do I sense a threat to advertising agencies here?
What will happen when ideas become commodities just like everything else? I'm sure that some people buy ads from advertising agencies on the strength of the agency's own brand name, but I wonder whether the value of those brands is under threat.
Agencies' brand names could be one of their last assets, since the idea-generating business seems to be slipping through their fingers. First media buying took a hit, then DTP took over, then the internet took a major bite out of TV production... and now ideas are leaving the building.
What's next? Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of advertising agencies? Or will the agencies, just like the bumblebee, continue to fly—although technically it shouldn't be able to?
It's hard to say. But one thing is for sure. Once again the internet is enabling a major revolution, one that makes great ideas accessible for everyone, moving Madison Avenue to every home in the world.