Where did all the advertising jobs go?

For the first time on record, the number of people working in the industry is declining during an economic expansion.

For the last three decades—as far back as the relevant US Bureau of Labor Statistics dataset goes—advertising jobs have grown in line with the economy. Today, however, a variety of traditional advertising jobs appear to be in recession mode. The number of jobs at ad agencies fell by about 5,000 last year, on net, while employment in media-buying agencies—firms that tend to focus on advertising strategy rather than designing or filming commercials—hasn’t grown since 2013.

The decline can be explained by two developments, most prominently technology’s invasion of the ad sector and the phenomenon of more corporations trying to create their own in-house advertising.

Indeed, the emergence of an advertising duopoly in Facebook and Google has coincided with the rise of programmatic advertising whereby companies can buy access to specific audiences across several publishing platforms at once, bypassing the work of building relationships with each one. That process produces more ads and requires fewer people—or, at least, fewer traditional advertising jobs and more technical jobs.

In essence, the future of advertising is being moved to tech companies managing ad networks and companies making their own branded content—i.e. away from the ad agencies.

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