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  • Writer's pictureRichard Irvine


Updated: Aug 31, 2021

By Michael Constantine:

It is an accepted phenomenon in the study of Linguistics that language, concepts and the meaning and interpretation of words will inevitably change over time. This can be a gradual evolution or a complete rewrite brought about by context, societal culture and increasingly by technology. This has never, arguably, been more evident or speedy than in the current explosive digital age.

Language and the words that it is comprised of mutate to communicate and describe new ideas, influences, possibilities and experiences.

Take the word ‘Amazon’. No longer a reference for most people to the epic female warriors of Greek mythology (or Marvel’s ‘Wonderwoman’) but a word that has come to define 21st Century e-commerce, cloud computing, digital content streaming and AI/artificial intelligence.

And then there is ‘Apple’, no longer just a healthy fruit.

Or ‘Google’ which has morphed from ‘Googol’ - American mathematician Milton Sirotta’s name for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros - into an active verb as ‘Hoover’ did decades ago.

And most recently ‘Cinch’ - a brand name proudly displayed on the shirts of England’s Test Cricket side. From the Spanish ‘cincha’ (girth) it has morphed from a belt used to secure a cowboy’s saddle, to a noun describing an easy task, to a widely-advertised online UK brand offering apparently effort-free used car sales.

The word ‘agency’ however has lost much of its weight and credibility over the years. It has been over-used to the point of mundanity.

Consider these leading regular usages: Estate agency; Travel agency; Recruitment agency; Collection agency; Advertising Agency.

‘A business that represents one group of people when dealing with another’ as the Cambridge English Dictionary blandly defines it.

Hardly the stuff of empowerment, influence and change.

‘Agency’ as a word and a concept has become tangibly devalued.

It no longer reflects the classic usage of the word as in ‘Divine Agency’; ‘Natural Agency’ and ‘Human Agency’. Powerful, influential forces capable of exerting change.

(Arguably the US Central Intelligence Agency is a notable exception).

‘Agency’ vs ‘An Agency’

In the advertising industry, the diminished power of the word has sadly mirrored the decline in the influence that ad agencies wielded in the past.

With it has gone much of the credibility, relevance and value that clients bought into as a prerequisite to connecting their brands to consumers.

Trusting their agency partners to provide compelling insights, potent strategies and create and execute brilliant ideas.

Not only to attract - but to weld - consumers of all ages, genders and ethnic origins to their brands. To create longterm, valuable brand relationships - not brief, faddy flings.

Isn’t it time now for agencies to re-embody the original meaning of the word ‘agency’: as a force to empower, influence and effect change?

To do that, agencies must find and forge new, meaningful links between their clients’ brands/products and their target consumers in order to satisfy the unmet needs of all generations.

Fail to do that and watch the inevitable trend of more clients in-housing creative marketing communications.

‘Lost Wallet’

And the word ‘agency’ raises its head in that context too - giving ‘agency’ (the ability to effect change, express free will, forge new paths) to those consumer cohorts who are being largely ignored by marketers.

Enter the Third Agers - the Baby Boomer generation.

It’s a mystery to us why the very consumers who have the means and the will to spend - either on themselves, their offspring or their offspring’s offspring - are so side-lined, or at best served up a diet of 2-dimensional one-size-fits-all ideas.

Persuading clients to appreciate the incremental revenue from ‘the most valuable generation in the history of marketing’ (Nielsen) is a great place to start.

Maybe then marketing communications agencies will really begin to regain the credibility, influence and respect that they had in earlier years?

‘AGENCY’: Empowerment | Influence | Change

Michael Constantine is CEO A3A Agency for the Third Age

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