Overabove Blog

The news last month that Accenture Interactive bought Droga5 is no surprise for those of us in the industry. Our take on a creative shop being bought by a consulting firm – and why it makes sense to hire someone for whom math and magic are already built in.

John: Deven, I know you’re in Paris enjoying some fromage and some vin and some well-deserved vacation time with your lovely wife, but thanks for checking in for Man Vs. Machine.

Deven: Bonjour! Yes this is some interesting news on the agency merger front. But it’s something that has quietly been happening and will continue to happen. As more consulting firms build in marketing “arms,” like Accenture did with Accenture Interactive, they realize they’re missing the creative chops and need to either outsource it or just acquire it. It’s another one of those “big duh” moments. But could provide huge benefits for clients.

John: Yes, looking at it from afar, it seems like a brilliant move.

Deven: I like what Droga5’s founder and creative chairman, David Droga, said about the merger in the April 8 edition of Adweek: “This is where business is going. Math and magic need each other.” That is absolutely true and on-point. But you said the move “seems like” a brilliant one. Are you skeptical?

John: Well, David Droga also said he would never sell. Here’s this incredible independent agency known for incredible work – they’ve worked with Under Armour, Chase, Google. Acclaimed campaigns. This shop proves why brands still need marketing and advertising: to become known entities that stand for something in the mind of the consumer.

Deven: Were they the last vanguard of the traditional agency?

John: Absolutely not. Droga5 is certainly not the last, or even that traditional, but they seemed to imbue a spirit of independence and creativity that served as a beacon for those of us in the independent, highly creative agency sector. Let me be clear: Agencies everywhere are doing great work, albeit for lower-profile brands. And we’re engaging a host of vendors, partners and platforms to create data-driven campaigns. We’re using 1:1 personalization to target our audiences. We’re getting better results than we’ve ever gotten, without having to do away with that “magic” part that got us all in this business to begin with.

Deven: Is it evidence of too much math, not enough magic?

John: Maybe. And like the math is overtaking the magic. Posing as a good thing, but is it really? As data-driven and intelligent as content platforms are today, there are still plenty of fails. Look at the YouTube fail during the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral last month. Their tool for appending accurate information to sensitive content failed during the Notre Dame fire. Instead of providing details about the event alongside three news accounts’ live streams, YouTube’s algorithm added a box explaining the September 11th terrorist attacks – completely unrelated, and pretty dangerous misinformation.

Deven: Just playing Devil’s Advocate here…what does somewhat-still-fallible AI have to do with a consulting firm buying a creative shop? And couldn’t you argue that a consulting firm partnering up with a creative agency could result in a razor-sharp marketing organization that drives genius results for clients?

John: It comes back to the essential tension between Man and Machine, I think. And in this case, an Accenture represents the machine. Extremely data-driven, numbers-oriented. Analytical. There’s a place for that, but in conjunction with a little magic, a little human intuition, which is required in situations where we need to persuade each other. Remember, Droga5 is being acquired by Accenture – they’re not just merging.

Deven: So the Accenture folks are machines, eating the human souls of Droga5?

John: I can hear you laughing from here, and I’m not trying to say Accenture are a bunch of number zombies…but, look, OA is a highly creative shop. We’ve never even called ourselves an advertising agency, and our extensive experience with direct marketing means results are, and always have been, everything. We will engage every level of the Martech stack to ensure that our audience is informing our messaging, and we will sort through all the available data at every step of a campaign to ensure that our messaging is resonating. But there’s a magic required to persuade someone to choose a brand. We creatives – we humans – are pretty good at this. I’d prefer to see our industry lead with magic, and shift with math. Not the other way around.

Deven: I hear you on the magic. Being in Paris is pretty magical – even with the tragedy at Notre Dame. I’m headed over there to see it for myself tomorrow.

John: Yes – you’ll be getting what the rest of us back home cannot – a human, in-person perspective. No wrong captions or anything. It will be difficult to absorb, but it will be through your own eyes – and there’s something pretty magical about that.

John Visgilio

Principal and Co-Founder