Rob Norman, 57, has had a front-row view of the shifting advertising world through his roles at GroupM, which spends billions of dollars a year on behalf of a long roster of WPP advertisers, from Campbell Soup to Unilever (GroupM, where Mr. Norman remains a consultant, claims it’s responsible for one out of every three ads worldwide).
Mr. Norman spoke with The New York Times about where the media and advertising worlds are now and where he thinks they are going.
There is a huge focus on how dominant Google and Facebook are in digital advertising, where they are often referred to as the “duopoly.” Some people have a hard time seeing that change.
The people who are most stuck in the world are those who see hegemonic positions now and don’t believe that now can be disrupted — despite the fact that what exists now only exists because everything’s been disrupted.
At the beginning of my career, the hegemonic position was held by ITV and the big commercial broadcasters. Then it was held by this display triumvirate of Yahoo, MSN and AOL and, separately, search by Google. And it took quite a long time to get here.
If you asked anyone in 2009, ‘Guess what the combined market shares of Google and Facebook will be in 2017,’ I’m not sure there would have been anyone that would have come close.
How long do you think will they maintain that position?
It kind of depends on what Google and Facebook allocate their resources to, and like everybody else, it depends on how they manage to navigate actual and potential regulatory environments going forward. I think if they were both worried about a thing today, it would be what regulators think about them, because they’re not at the peak of their popularity with those folks at the moment, it would seem to me.
I think that’s why people are so interested in the Amazon story and were so interested in the Snap story and were so interested in Twitter’s story — because everyone’s looking for the next one to break through.
What’s the next thing that’s going to look and feel completely different that disrupts how people interface with the world around them? My guess is that five to seven years from now, there will be at least one company that people will think of in the top five most important enterprises in advertising that simply doesn’t exist now.