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FRENEMIES by Ken Auletta Kirkus Star


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

by Ken Auletta

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2086-7
Publisher: Penguin Press

How technological change has “convulsed” the advertising industry.

Mad Men’s Don Draper would not recognize today’s ad business, writes New Yorker media critic Auletta (Googled: The End of the World As We Know It, 2009, etc.). Once dominated by creatives and clients producing ads for print, radio, and TV, the modern industry relies on “machines, algorithms, pureed data, artificial intelligence—and on the skills of engineers.” The $2 trillion global business is “struggling…to figure out how to sell products on mobile devices without harassing consumers, how to reach a younger generation accustomed to dodging ads, how to capture consumer attention in an age where choices proliferate and a mass audience is rare.” In this well-researched, personality-packed account, the author examines the baffling choices facing advertisers (hundreds of media channels, billions of smartphones, etc.) and the technological threats to agencies, from ad blockers to targeted, computerized ad-buying. With trust eroding between clients and agencies, many clients find “neutral” guidance from MediaLink, a firm that orchestrates most relationships in the business. Auletta uses Michael Kassan—ad “power broker,” MediaLink founder, and Brooklyn-born son of a Catskills comic—as the thread for his lively narrative, which delves into the major agencies and most corners of the business. There are deft portraits of agency heads, including the Cambridge- and Harvard-educated Martin Sorrell, founder of WPP, the world’s largest agency (he popularized the term “frenemies” for firms that both compete and cooperate, notably Google and Facebook, which take ad money but refuse to share data with advertisers), and the stylish Irwin Gotlieb, chair of GroupM media company, part of WPP, who “looks as if he just slid out of a barber’s chair” and “speaks slowly, as if inspecting each word.” Auletta also covers privacy, kickbacks to agencies, the growing importance of data scientists and engineers, and how media clients are building in-house ad agencies.

A bright, informative take on an industry in turmoil.