Quest for status in the advertising world

May 16, 2012 - 06:00

Although agencies with high status in the advertising industry were quick to adopt interactive advertising, they did so without using their most award-winning people.

Interactive advertising is now one of the three big categories in the market. (Photo: Colourbox)

"Making an objective judgement of the quality and value of creative advertising is difficult," says PhD student Erik Aadland at the BI Norwegian Business School.

Advertising people and agencies gain professional recognition and prestige by winning awards in competitions which for the most part are organised by the industry itself. Awards give both status and attention. Status also serves as a seal of quality, which helps to attract new clients and new staff.

Challenging the established actors

For many years the market for advertising services was a stable one. Advertising was created in pre-defined advertising categories based on familiar media technologies and well-established advertising logic.

Then came the internet, digital media and interactive advertising. Digital media and interactive advertising represented a paradigm shift within the industry.

New, radical innovation can represent a challenge to established positions, roles and ground rules in a status-driven industry. The internet and digital media paved the way for a totally new category of advertising – interactive advertising – which challenged the established advertising categories.

In his PhD project at the BI Norwegian Business School, Erik Aadland has conducted a study of the creative advertising industry in Norway between 2000 and 2010.

He was particularly concerned with how the established, high-status and award-winning advertising creators responded to a new, rival category of advertising and how positions of status in different categories affected the likelihood of professional recognition in the new one.

For his definition of established positions of status, he took all the candidates who won gold in the Gullblyanten advertising competition. 212 individuals and 57 organisations have won awards in this competition during the period studied by Aadland. He also looked at the winners of the Sølvtaggen award, an industry award for interactive advertising.

Top advertisers wait and see

Erik Aadland shows how established advertising people and agencies entered the new interactive advertising category at different points in time.

"The study suggest that the established, high-status organisations enter the new category early on. They enter it while interactive advertising is still relatively unattractive compared to the established categories," says Erik Aadland.

PhD student Erik Aadland has studied creative advertising business since 2000. (Photo: Audun Farbrot)

The established and award-winning advertising people, however, are not as quick to enter the new and less attractive category. High-status individuals only start to follow suit when the new advertising category grows and becomes more attractive.

From being a peripheral advertising category at the beginning of the 2000s, interactive advertising is now one of the three big categories in the market.

According to Aadland, the reason why organisations and individuals in the same organisations behave differently is that they respond to different types of audiences.

The agencies respond to their clients and commercial considerations, while the individuals are concerned with professional aesthetics and winning professional respect within the industry.

"Established, high-status organisations are therefore quick to enter the new category to meet their clients' needs. But they do so with advertising people who have not been conferred prestige by their industry colleagues in the established categories and, consequently, they hold lower status there.”

Once the attraction of the new, rival category begins to grow in relation to the established categories, so does the likelihood that advertising people with high status in established advertising categories follow suit and enter the new category.

No spillover effect

"High status in established advertising categories does not increase an organisation's likelihood of gaining professional recognition in the new interactive advertising category,” says Erik Aadland on the basis of his study of whether status spills over from established areas into new areas.

So it's not good resting on one's laurels: agencies have to earn their status in the new advertising category, too.

According to Aadland, however, it is wise to collaborate with agencies who have already gained recognition in the new advertising category: "An informed choice of collaborative partner may increase the likelihood of winning recognition and prestige in new business areas, too,” says Aadland.

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