NEW YORK: Agencies have traditionally managed most of the communications problems facing brands, but John Deighton, of the Harvard Business School, believes that deeper, richer sources of information technology (IT) might redefine such basic business propositions.

As evidence of the change in marketing, Deighton – the Harold M. Brierley Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School – looks no further than Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group.

Sorrell, Deighton observed, prefaced his company’s 2015 annual report with the admission, “About three quarters of our $19bn is earned doing things that Don Draper” – the protagonist in AMC’s advertising-based TV series “Mad Men” – “wouldn’t recognize, such as digital communications, programmatic media planning and buying, and data investment.”

And, Deighton writes in the current issue of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), “Two kinds of problems are converging, because marketing problems increasingly are addressed by IT solutions.

“What is the effect of this convergence? Which professional values get to dominate? In more practical terms, because values live in institutions, which institutions will dominate?”

The short answer, Deighton proposes in Rethinking the Profession Formerly Known as Advertising: How Data Science Is Disrupting the Work of Agencies, reads as follows: “For the moment, as long as the data are open to question, agencies are needed as referees.”

But, he cautions, “The future of marketing will be played out on a small set of dominant design platforms, kept honest by the efforts of the open web to displace them.”

The players in this space are advertising holding companies (among them, Sorrell’s WPP) and “walled gardens” that pursue integration from different directions (current examples include Google, Facebook, and Amazon).

Information technology consultants and software vendors will join these players, along with, Deighton argued, “What is left of the open web – a community of independent ad agencies, newer IT ventures, and brokers of third-party data.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff