My good friend, the L.A.-based writer and producer Tom Teicholz, interviewed the prolific soft-porn director, Russ Meyer, in the eighties. Russ, the auteur of such classics as "Beyond the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens," and "Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!," who gave new brand meaning to the "Peterbilt" line of trucks, was partial to female stars whose breasts sizes would have required oversized baggage fees.
Tom looked up Russ in his semi-retirement in Los Angeles, and enjoyed a long conversation. "Russ," he inquired after a while, "is there any such thing as too big?"
"No," he quickly replied. "Big, Bigger, Best."
Something of the same logic seems to be at work with the acquisition by a traditional media agency (WPP with 24/7 Real Media), a traditional software company (Microsoft with aQuantive), and the gargantuan Google (with Doubleclick) of new media agencies and internet ad service firms. While it might seem attractive for the lucky ones in these acquired companies with some ownership position to cash out their equity, it remains to be seen what value these acquisitions will bring to their acquirers.
It certainly demonstrates that even the might engine of innovation, Google, can't do it all when it comes to internet marketing. Traditional ad agencies, like those who make up the major roster of WPP, are starved for both talent and successful case studies about internet marketing beyond the traditional banner buy. And while none of these acquisitions represent for the buying companies more than a fraction of their total market value, the multiples that there are paying would seem to indicate a high level of anticipation of future value.
Beyond the proprietary technologies that they get in buying ad server automation, what will Google, Microsoft and WPP be able to hold on to in the way of innovative approaches to their clients needs? Web 2.0 marketing is an ever-evolving science, or art, and its best practitioners are, by and large, a young and technologically talented bunch who will prove hard to herd into a large, corporate cave ("have you checked with H.R. on that, dude?") Agency talent has always proved difficult to confine, and in the natural history of advertising, consolidation on the one hand leads to the explosive growth of "boutiques" on the other. With the ability to build distribution networks for next to nothing, does large scale hold any advantage for global marketers?