Let’s be honest with ourselves here for a second.
There’s been hundreds of millions (possibly billions?) in marketing budget wasted on digital marketing because of over zealousness about its effectiveness and misunderstanding about how it works.
That’s not an over claim. Look at the scandalous view ability rates of digital display, the amount of money that brands spend each month on creating social ‘content’ that nobody ever gets to see, or the budget pumped into the latest ‘silver bullet’ (branded apps, messenger bots, ‘influencer’ ‘real time’ or whatever the latest buzzword is).
Agencies are happy to keep pumping this stuff out for cold hard cash, while many marketers are afraid to call them out on it for fear that they’ll be seen as ‘not getting it’.
Everyone in the industry has been guilty of hyping up digital, getting excited about tactics and and forgetting of the bigger strategic picture.
But by focusing on the revered efficiency of digital, we’ve lost sight of the real value of creative advertising.
We’ve lost sight of a lot of things.
As Ian Leslie said in his recent excellent piece about adland…
“The ad industry has been bamboozeled by the rise of digital, because most of it had no idea how advertising worked in the first place.”
Sure, the growth digital has completely changed the ad industry. It’s hugely exciting and has had a bigger impact on consumer behaviour than almost anything else in history.
But it’s has also led to many negative side effects.
- It’s meant that we prioritise short term, easily measurable data instead of clarifying thinking and focusing on long term brand building.
- It’s led to biased thinking from marketers eager to cosy up to tech cos and desperate to distance themselves from the supposedly moribund world of “traditional” media.
- It’s led to many of us thinking like direct marketers, not brand marketers and ineffectually using ‘precision targeting’ to try to engage the perfect individual, while forgetting that wastage is actually a good thing.
- And of course it’s led to fraudulent practises within an industry that can’t really afford to lose any more credibility.
We seem to have convinced ourselves that digital is this completely different approach and the learnings of old don’t apply.
But as contrarians like Mark Ritson, Byron Sharp and Bob Hoffman have been saying for years, digital is just another interesting tool to add to the marketer’s arsenal. It’s not a panacea for everything and those who tell you it is are either wilfully lying, utterly biased or just don’t know enough about how advertising really works.
But maybe this period of inflated expectations and unnecessary buzz has some positive outcomes. Maybe it’s just the early stages of us truly understanding digital.
As with any technology, it takes time for it to stabilise and for smart people who are impacted by it to really understand and stop get carried away with talk of ‘disruption’, ‘game changer’ and ‘the death of’ everything else.
As a marketer who has only known the digital age of advertising, it’s been all to easy for me to over prioritise it and to demonise everything else as old fashioned. That’s the same for many under 30s in adland. They refer to ‘traditional’ advertising in a pejorative sense, and hail any small new tactical evolvement of digital as a huge step.
Tom Goodwin sums this up well when he says that…
“It’s not unusual in technology leaps to think you’ve understood the power of the new when you haven’t. We thought the wonder of the mobile phone was making phone calls anywhere, when in fact it was a personal gateway to the Internet.”
We’re only beginning to get to grips with the best way to use digital now, and this learning curve will continue for a long time yet.
But things seem to be getting better. And even the past few months, the signs are that our approach to digital seems to be maturing.
Firstly, we’re starting to see a more sophisticated approach to digital that’s more in line with the way we believe advertising works, and less inclined towards believing that it requires a completely new approach.
Let’s focus on FB for a minute.
P&G’s recent announcement about its spend on Facebook advertising is a good example. In line with Byron Sharp’s theories of brand growth, one of the world’s largest spenders is actually moving away from uber targeting and starting to remember the rules that emotional fame campaigns that reach lots of people and get talked about (building mental availability) are far more effective in the long term.
“The inference is they are switching to TV but what’s really happening is a shift to reach and frequency and away from highly targeted buying, but still on Facebook, which we’ve been doing on similar clients for the past two years.”
Ironically, this news could turn out to be a good thing for Facebook, as the digital brand building platform with the largest mass reach in the world.
BBDO’s excellent comms planning division also underline the shift in approach in their recent ‘About Face’ report.
In the past 5 years, brands have focused on building up Facebook ‘fans’ and pushing out organic content to them. But there’s two fallacies at play here.
Firstly, the likelehood is that these ‘fans’ are already existing heavy buyers and thus, this approach contradicts the fundamental marketing theory that for brands to grow, they must aim their marketing efforts at all buyers, as opposed to only loyal buyers.
And secondly, for most big brands their organic reach is less than 1%, meaning their carefully cultivated posts (likely created by an agency on a huge hourly rate), aren’t being seen by 99% of the people who ‘like’ their page, never mind anyone outside of that already qualified base.
Therefore, smarter brands are starting to realise that focusing on reaching as many people as possible is a much more lucrative and viable tactic than micro targeting.
But it’s not just brands that are seeing the light. Ironically, Facebook also supports this return to the same logic that we use for ‘traditional’ advertising, emphasising in its literature to advertisers that ‘reach’ is a much more effective KPI than precision targeting or optimising for engagement.
“By optimizing towards reach rather than towards action-based objectives, advertisers can generate a much larger impact for their brand, more cost-efficiently.”
The excellent Jerry Daykin sums it up well:
“Behind those unintelligible digital headlines, ever changing platform specifications and powerful speeches about consumer engagement & conversation is a simple truth: digital marketing is most effective when it plays by traditional rules, but does so better than traditional media can. The real advantage of digital is often when it can help us broadly reach more consumers, not specifically target fewer.”
Another sign of digital maturity is its continuing integration with other channels. We’re seeing the light that the most effective way to use digital is in tandem, rather than it being expected to do everything alone.
Consistent research has shown that multi-channel campaigns actually make the same budget work harder and more efficiently and advertising across platforms delivers a higher ROI, and that integrated campaigns build better brand associations and more brand equity. Binet and Field’s seminal research found that adding an online response element to a TV advert boosts the efficiency of TV by a factor of 4x.
Digital is strong alone, but better together.
Indeed, the best, most awarded campaigns at Cannes, in Warc awards and in IPA/ADFX tend to be those that use a variety of media to communicate their message, and the average number of channels used in awarded campaigns is increasing.
It’s clear to see that cross platform advertising builds brands in consumer brains better than a single platform. It leads to a multiplier effect. No individual media channel can become a silver bullet for a campaign, not least digital.
Make digital redundant
I’d like to finish with a proposal that I’ve stolen from elsewhere.
As an industry, let’s focus on making the term ‘digital’ redundant.
Let’s not see it as a separate thing. That’s outdated thinking.
Digital is like electricity, it’s everywhere, it’s the thing we build on top of.
Imagine if some new agency came to you with an ‘electricity strategy’.
Digital marketing is not a thing. Digital is a marketing channel, not a marketing strategy. And increasingly, everything is digital anyway.
It should be baked into every idea that we come up with, but it’s also not a replacement for any other tool.
This would mean the death of purely ‘digital’ or ‘social’ agencies too, which in my view would be a good thing for the industry, and lead to less biased thinking.
The call for talent in the future won’t be for ‘digital marketers’. It’ll be for well rounded marketers who understand how advertising really works, aren’t biased towards any one medium and can create an effective integrated plan. People who not only ‘get’ digital, but also don’t put it on an unnecessary pedestal as the silver bullet for everything.
As Jerry Daykin says, in this new age of maturity that we’re hopefully entering, It’s not so much about mastering a completely new art of digital marketing, as it is about mastering traditional marketing in an increasingly digital world.
So paradoxically, the best thing that marketers could do to push digital marketing forward, is to kill the term itself.
But enough of my rambling, there’s bound to be some holes in the thinking above, so what’s your take?
- It does not pay for advertisers to narrow their target too much – Financial Times
- How Mad Men lost the plot – Financial Times
- The wizarding world of digital marketing – Jerry Daykin
- Why P&G decided Facebook ad targeting wasn’t worth the money – Ad Age
- Smashing the digital marketing delusion – Mark Ritson
- The symbiotic relationship between social & T.V. – Shane O’Leary
- 9 reasons your brand needs comms planning – BBDO
- The re-birth of comms planning – Shane O’Leary
- Rebuilding the agency for the digital age – Tom Goodwin
- Making digital marketing redundant – Mark Ritson