The Internalization of Advertising Services: An Inter-Industry Analysis

by Sharon Horsky, Steven C. Michael & Alvin J. Silk

Overview — When are advertisers more likely to establish and maintain their own in-house agencies? Despite occasional indications to the contrary, such self-sufficiency has long been viewed by industry observers and scholars as more the exception than the rule in the U.S. advertising and marketing services business. With the background that vertical integration in this industry is a neglected domain of research, analysis by HBS professor emeritus Alvin J. Silk and colleagues suggests that while most large U.S. advertisers rely primarily on independent agencies for advertising services, many other advertisers operate in-house advertising units. Key concepts include:

  • The organization of the advertising and marketing services industry is likely to undergo considerable change as it absorbs new communication and information technologies, creating challenges and opportunities for both managers and researchers.
  • In the 1990s, almost half of all U.S. advertisers, large and small, operated some form of in-house advertising unit.
  • Smaller advertisers and advertisers of technical, creative, or highly differentiated products were more likely to integrate.

Author Abstract

The common perception appears to be that vertical integration of advertising services is more the exception than the rule in the U.S. advertising industry. This study investigates the extent of such outsourcing and examines inter-industry variation in the use of in-house rather than independent advertising agencies by U.S. advertisers. While the vast majority of large advertisers employ outside agencies, it comes as a surprise to find that when advertisers of all sizes are considered, about half operate some form of in-house agency. Internalization of advertising services is much more widespread than has hitherto been appreciated and varies widely across industries. To explain this variation, we draw on concepts from research on scale economies and transaction costs to develop a set of hypotheses which we test in cross sectional analyses of data covering 69 two digit SIC industries at two points in time, 1991 and 1999. Across industries, we find that the likelihood of internalization of advertising services decreases as the size of advertising outlays increase but increases as advertising intensity and technological intensity increase and is greater for "creative" industries.

Paper Information

  • Full Working Paper Text
  • Working Paper Publication Date: July 2008
  • HBS Working Paper Number: 09-007
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