"Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)," Ken Auletta, Penguin Press, 358 pages, $30.
Once upon a time, everyday America was fascinated by the advertising business. That infatuation, in retrospect, seems to have peaked around 1971 with the “Hilltop” commercial for Coke, aka “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
It’s been downhill from there.
For one thing, the process by which the professionals sell us soft drinks, soap and soup ceased to be a novelty. And the switch in the ’70s from the “brought to you by” sponsorship model of radio to the magazine-style, multiple-ad format of TV transformed advertisers from benign patrons into interruptive annoyances. Wall Street and Silicon Valley have taken over as the shiny objects.
There have been attempts at rekindling the fascination. One comes from Ken Auletta, the prolific media reporter, critic and bestselling author, with “Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else).”
The title comes from a word popularized by Martin Sorrell, former CEO of WPP, the largest advertising and marketing holding company; he started referring to Google as a “frenemy” of WPP’s in that they do business together (friend) at the same time they compete against each other (enemy).
Auletta surveys the tumultuous, treacherous ad landscape through this lens. He details the heydays and details the industry’s adaptive behavior to current continual disruptions. And although it has an overall pessimistic tone, he still documents the industry’s still important role in creating wealth for its clients.
NEW YORK TIMES