My Diatribe on “Digital” vs “Traditional” Agencies

June 21, 2007 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

Just found a video which was presented in Cannes about “Digital Creativity” with some good quotes from senior creatives with some opinions such as:

  • the Internet as Medium isn’t just one channel it is as many channels as you make of it
  • that it hasn’t just changed the requirements for how to communicate, but that it has changed the landscape completely
  • that traditional agency tools do not cover these new developments, in fact that they never had to do as good of a job in tradtional media as they would have to do online
  • that all big ideas will come from the Internet because it is the most relevant medium today, just like TV used to be in times past
  • that everything keeps changing rapidly, and there is no one approach or methodology to predict anything with

Apart from not understanding what they mean by “digital” creativity (in comparison to “analog”creativity??), I agree with most of the statements themselves. In fact, I am surprised that some say that people don’t know of the importance of the internet or believe otherwise or refute its validity. Over the years, most of the people I have worked with have been making statements like that for, what, 12 years now. And now people who previously were unsure about the digital space suddenly go tooting the digital horn?

Like, hello? Welcome to the “interweb”. Glad you could make it.

So yeah, within the argument of the video, it is an easy point to make that certain traditional agencies (as well as certain of their clients) have been missing the boat on like, errr…, 12 years of stuff going on, demanding to keep making their money with a 12% cut off the media budget, due to their business model (built on the TV network and media structure of the 1960s-80s), their antiquated consumer and market research methods, out-of-touch view of the “consumer”, their philosophy of creative as an end to a means (as opposed to a means to an end).

Obviously then, it is equally as easy to point out the results of this: Increasingly irrelevant communication concepts, back-slapping award shows, dipping sales and the fact that consumers themselves now create more compelling messaging for brands than the companies and agencies actually tasked with it.

And yes, more and more touchpoints will become digital. More and more awareness, consideration and retention processes will be influenced by the increasing digital lifestyle, and as a result, more ideas will come from creative solution processes for this digital lifestyle. Even offline touchpoints and communications as well as underlying business processes have already changed and will change even more.

However, the perspective some digital creative agencies have adopted suggests to me that they are bound to make the same mistakes as the so-called “Traditional Agency”. They use their medium-specific creative and technological development capabilities and equate them with “being the most creative” or “the most relevant”. If they don’t adjust their capabilities and retain a flexible innovation architecture in order to be able to generate more than digital insight, digital strategy and digital communications, they will be overwhelmed by the next big thing, just as traditional agencies were. My guess is, the next big thing isn’t gonna be webx.0, but rather “Marketing 5.0”.

In the end, the weakness inherent to the 100% digital proposition isn’t that you can’t make money with it now, or that it won’t remain a really important factor of how communications will be played. The weakness is that building a services structure that doesn’t consider all touchpoints and examines all types of consumer experiences and brand experiences will ultimately only be able to be sold as a specialized solution, not a provider of encompassing big ideas. Because, the last time I checked, we don’t live as disembodied avatars enjoying our Burger & Coke digitally, bringing our kids to school digitally, getting a high from corporal excercise digitally, falling in love digitally, etc.

So, while the digital space is a driving force behind a lot of factors for consumer expectations and brand communications, to me, the most interesting task in all of this is: How do we generate better insights about this changed landscape, and come up with new types of developing strategies and ideas and then apply them regardless of a “channel”? After all, ideas are ideas. The factors of what I call the Four Rs: reach, relevance, resonance, and response of communications cannot be owned because you know how develop for a particular medium du jour. Creating powerful communications has always been owned by the most relevant insight, the most strategic idea and the most compelling creative, whether it is the radio of the 30s or the TV of the 50s or the latest version number of the web today.
To the consumer of today, the channel is irrelevant anyway until he doesn’t get the experience he expected from it. He adopts technology in search of this experience, doesn’t give a fetid donkey’s kidney on how a company and marketer produces content, services or products. He wants interactions with brands his way, when and where he wants it.

“Convergence”, “Channel-agnostics” and “Through the line” aren’t just cool things to do, it is what people expect anyway. In fact, it’s not just brands who are in the position to create new things to then convince the consumer of. It is actually the consumer now who is convincing brands to finally deliver what he has been expecting anyway.

To end this diatribe, the Internet as integrator of all channels is key in making articifical differentiation between “lines” (ATL/BTL) go away to enable more relevant “brand experience delivery”. But what really sets the boundaries for the competitive playing field of communication agencies isn’t which medium they develop for. It is how well agencies will be able to help companies deliver the delayed fulfillment of brand experiences regardless of medium, based on the understanding that, weirdly enough, the medium is indeed the message, but only because, today, the medium is the individual consumer himself.

It’s off to the races, no training wheels on.

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Entry filed under: advertising, agencies, business, companies, effectiveness, future, Insight, media, opinion, Strategy, theory, video, Web.

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