When criticizing ad agencies, you have to begin at the core—advertising, as it is widely practiced, is an inherently unethical and, frankly, poisonous endeavor that sees people as sheep to be manipulated, that vaunts style over substance, and deems success to be winning awards.
Ad agencies are the new music industry
While I would like to think advertising and marketing agencies can evolve their practices to appropriately engage in user experience problems, I believe that the industry’s DNA simply cannot support such mutations. I’ve witnessed 15 years of agencies flailing (and failing) in delivering good user experiences, so there’s no reason to expect them to change.
Such agencies have been able to hang on because Chief Marketing Officers and other executives are trained to buy marketing services from them, and they see user experience as simply another marketing service. I foresee generational change, when the current crop of CMOs retire, and are replaced by people who grok how things actually work. When that time comes, and it will, ad agencies will find themselves marginalized, as it becomes clearer that manipulation and media buying is not nearly as important as an honest engagement with customers through delightful and desirable experiences.
I will not mourn their passing.
In case you were wondering, Facebook is an ad agency. Maciej Ceglowski put it more elegantly than me here:
Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.
Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It's as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends...