Authored by: Ken Auletta

Reviewed by: Kevin Miller

Keyword: Advertising, Marketing, Platforms, Networks, Don Draper, Mad Men, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Martin Sorrell, Michael Kassan

The Essence of the Book:

Ken Auletta has authored a book that helps capture a part of the aggressively shifting landscape of advertising and marketing. In addition to writing 11 books, he has written profiles in his magazine column “Annals of Communication” for The New Yorker magazine for over 25 years.

Auletta chose the title “Frenemies” (that’s combining “friends” and “enemies”) because, in the advertising industry, many of the key players (firms and personalities) are simultaneously partners and competitors. His narrative reads much like a fictional novel or business soap opera, but the stakes are deadly serious.

Mad Men was the cable channel AMC’s serialization from 2007 to 2015 capturing the fictional life of Don Draper and others in the advertising business on Madison Avenue in New York. Ironically, while this popular series unfolded, a massive disruption of ad agencies was happening (and continues to happen) with Facebook and Google dramatically disrupting the entire advertising industry and how it functions.

Why is this important? In a highly interconnected economy where advertising affects the lifeblood of media and many product-offering companies, and with Amazon looming to pick up a much more prominent role in Auletta’s meta-narrative, this book gives a meaningful glimpse into how all of our professional and personal lives will be impacted downstream by this massive shift in behaviors and resources spent.

Whitestone Commentary:

It’s hard to overestimate how much the $2 trillion-plus advertising sector in America has changed…and will change. And it’s hard to capture the story in a captivating way. But author Ken Auletta has done just that.

Using larger-than-life personalities like Michael Kassan and Martin Sorrell as hubs in the story alongside key spokes like Irwin Gotlieb and Carolyn Everson, Auletta weaves a story that is not only fun and engaging, it catches us up to speed as to massive changes and pressures and shifts in allegiances where ginormous advertising dollars are being spent.

Advertising geniuses are in the process of being swapped for math-data geniuses as Facebook and Google swiftly gobble up territory in ways unanticipated by the industry. Allegiances shift, assurances are made and then broken, bonds are remade. It’s a long, drawn-out tornado of change, but the old ways and the old players (most of ad agencies’ leading stalwarts are 60+ years old) are getting notably disrupted.

Add the fact that Martin Sorrell, the head of the world’s largest built-from-scratch ad agency, has been unceremoniously terminated from his firm, WPP—apparently for alleged sexual transgressions in the workplace—and is now bidding for acquisitions against his former firm, and you have quite a scenario.

Many of the old guard rightly should be worried—the entire advertising landscape is changing. As they partner with Facebook in certain key ways, Facebook is simultaneously eroding the lifeblood of their individual businesses and, in sum, their position in the entire advertising sector.

Why is this likely relevant to you? Auletta asserts this is about advertising and marketing, and if he isn’t completely correct now, he will be soon. Beyond Facebook and Google, Amazon has entered the picture in a significant, impacting way that many businesses in America must begin to think about. That’s because Amazon has worked to change behaviors in a broad array of product offering with regard to what marketing professionals call time utility and place utility.

That means millions of Amazon consumers choose to wait a bit longer (that’s called time utility) for the privilege of getting products delivered to a place extremely convenient to them (that’s called place utility).

So now your competitors, long-established or newly emerging, can skip the bricks and mortar cost, the retail-employees headaches, the location upkeep problems: they can just simply partner with Amazon, often at much lower cost. That’s a game changer.

And now, Amazon handles more product searches in the U.S. than Google. So the many thousands of businesses now offering products on Amazon don’t necessarily have to advertise on CBS or ESPN, on Facebook or Google, in magazines or newspapers. And Amazon is a “walled garden,” not sharing its information with anyone else…and burying the cost of that search for products in its other profitable financial arrangements. Talk about real disruption!

Not a retailer? Perhaps you and your enterprise are in the supply chain somewhere anyway. Or, do you service some business or firm that is in the middle of this disruption? No? Are you sure? Really, really sure?

Regardless of current perceptions, these seismic changes have a way of rolling through the economy and creating behavior changes in consumers and, in turn, every business directly or tangentially involved in complicated product flows in a complex economy.

So, grab this book for the entertainment value. Along the way, gain some special, foundational understanding of a major, major shift we are all a part of—perhaps in ways you have not been anticipating that may very well have real impact on you and your enterprise, for better or worse.

Why not get ahead of the curve and make it for the better?!


Reviewed by Kevin Miller