Frenemies is Ken Auletta's reckoning with an industry under existential assault. He enters the rooms of the ad world's most important players, some of them business partners, some adversaries, many "frenemies," a term whose ubiquitous use in this industry reveals the level of anxiety, as former allies become competitors, and accusations of kickbacks and corruption swirl.
It's a comment on the currency of data ... a brightly readable, cinematic tour through the seismic changes currently altering the face and the very nature of the marketing and advertising professions ... all these wheeling and dealing men and women come alive like characters in a novel ... Auletta has this formula down to a science, although in a book as data-heavy as Frenemies the formula sometimes feels like a distraction from the main subject; less color and more data might have been the wiser course for this kind of topic. But Frenemies is nevertheless the most vivid account to date of what may be the most crucial moment in advertising history— the moment when data went from servant to master.
There are martinis aplenty scattered among the pages of Frenemies, lending a nostalgic touch to the forward-facing proceedings.... Alas, Frenemies can’t avoid a pitfall common to such topical books, in that some of what’s chronicled has been overtaken by events between writing and publication.
It is telling that one of the most prominent and memorable figures in Ken Auletta’s new book...is Don Draper, the fictional executive at the center of the celebrated television series Mad Men The real-life advertising and marketing executives Auletta quotes in Frenemies talk about Draper like he’s an actual person ... Auletta’s book, completed before Facebook admitted that consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to data on 87 million users, doesn’t go nearly deep enough into privacy concerns, despite an entire chapter titled 'The Privacy Time Bomb.' He unquestioningly quotes Ricky Van Veen of Facebook as saying 'privacy is overrated' and bolsters that view with anecdotes about how teens and college kids love to share intimate details on social media ... The lack of a modern-day Draper makes Frenemies a bit of a slog for the general-interest reader ... Frenemies never successfully makes the case that the advertising industry, despite its massive size, is as important or innovative or influential as cable news or Google.