On Friday, WPP's Chief Executive Mark Read confirmed that Walmart had decided to take its digital advertising in-house and away from WPP's agency Triad, a blow given the likely value of the Walmart business.
It's the latest move in a trend that reflects the greater control brands want over their advertising teams: The Association of National Advertisers in the U.S. found that 78 percent of its members had some kind of in-house agency in 2018, versus 58 percent in 2013.
Some brands are looking to in-source different elements of their marketing, including digital advertising, creative or design and media buying.
The current agency structure grew out of a model that focused on getting big, national TV ad campaigns made, says Charlie Makin, a media agency veteran and founder of digital agency Pintarget. "This is completely inappropriate for the digital age, where marketing clients need to be producers and manage multiple channels, some in-house, some on long term contracts, some short term," he told CNBC by email.
Unilever, for example, has digital content creative arm called U-Studio in 2016 and it now operates in 18 countries. The company worked with consultancy Oliver, a company that specializes in starting in-house creative agencies within brands, to set it up. Unilever still goes to external companies for big creative and strategic ideas, and it is this blend of in-house, quick turnaround work and external bigger ideas that is a model that other companies are exploring.