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  • Writer's pictureAnnette Yang

What is an Ad Agency: The Power of Advertising

September 11, 2022

By: Annette Yang

The average American is exposed to 10,000 advertisements per day (Forbes). Whether we see a logo on a friend’s t-shirt, a 5-second preview of a video ad before we click “skip ad” on YouTube, or when we do a quick Google search, advertising surrounds our everyday lives. So who even creates all this advertising that we can’t seem to escape from or get enough of?

The first advertising agency dates back to 1841 in Philadelphia. Back then, ad agencies were used mostly for newspaper advertising. Roughly 180 years later, advertising continues to grow at a rapid rate and we see ads everywhere: on public transportation, in the workplace, on the apps we use daily… the list goes on. Alongside an increasing amount of advertising is also a heightening number of ad-related businesses (e.g. PR, OOH, media) which reaches over 87,000 in the United States alone in 2022 (IBIS World). These businesses are involved in functions related to putting the ad together and placed on the platform of choice. Pitching ideas, conducting consumer research, designing the graphics, and creating a campaign strategy are just a few of the many tasks that ad agencies are often responsible for.

“Times Square Parade” photographed by Alexander Chen

Types of Agencies

With the rise of the digital age, advertising is growing bigger and more important than ever. In order to achieve business goals and successfully communicate with audiences, companies rely on advertising agencies to handle various aspects of marketing and creative management. Ad agencies have been the powerhouse that drives culture, trends, and inspiration across nations and throughout generations. They are the brain behind impactful and well-known ad campaigns including “Just Do It” from Nike coined by ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, Share a Coke by Coca-Cola created by ad agency Ogilvy and Mather Australia, and Skittle’s “Taste the Rainbow” from ad agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.

Ad agencies take many forms. The world’s largest advertising agency, WPP, leads the advertising industry alongside the other “big 4” agencies: Publicis, Interpublic Group, and Omnicom. These advertising giants own a plethora of other companies, for example, Ogilvy and Wunderman Thompson under WPP. Big 4 agencies have a range of 50,000 to 100,000 employees across the globe and cover pretty much every type of advertising need possible. On the other hand, there are plenty of successful ad agencies that are a lot smaller and compete with big-name agencies to service Fortune 500 companies.

With the continuously oversaturated and fast-paced nature of media today, advertising has to provide more than just an exciting billboard or slogan. Ad agencies meet these needs by operating on various levels and scopes inclusive of consulting services, public relations, strategy, and branding, to name a few. Some agencies, like Ogilvy, are full service, meaning they provide all these areas of service to meet the various needs of clients. Others, like Socialfly, are labeled as specialized marketing agency that caters to a specific need like social media. Companies partner with ad agencies to solve all kinds of problems and reach business goals extending from driving up sales to rebranding their company to speak to younger audiences.

Keeping Up with Advertising

Advertising moves fast. Agencies in today’s day and age are expected to not only cater to an increasingly needy audience but also be a leader in culture. In the 21st century, companies are expected to not only convince people to buy their products but communicate a positive brand image. Branding is an essential component of advertising that can make or break a company’s success. Companies rely on ad agencies to achieve their goals of staying on the good side in terms of ESG factors/ concerns and, in turn, having consumers perceive their brand positively.

Courtesy of WPP

Dove is notable as a brand that has been studied for decades for promoting positive messages to uplift women and restate the standard of beauty. During the breakout of COVID, Dove partnered with renowned ad agency, Ogilvy, to create an ad campaign displaying a health care worker with marks on her face from working long, arduous hours in order to save lives during the pandemic. The copy: “courage is beautiful” struck the hearts of audiences globally and continued Dove’s pattern of touching and impactful advertising.

Ad agencies around the world are composed of some of the world’s greatest marketers that put together a diverse skillset of communications, strategy, research, design, and more. The art of advertising is powerful as it works to captivate audiences in a split second, and make an impact; all whilst staying true to a brand’s core and in tune with the social climate. Next time you see a great ad, now you know that the mastermind behind it was likely an advertising agency.


Annette Yang is the Fall 2022-Spring 2023 Content Director. She is a Junior at NYU Steinhardt majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication and minoring in Business and Data Science. Stay tuned for more content from Annette!

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